UFC stepped into the broadcast octagon on Saturday and pinned the mixed martial arts group's top telecast ever.
Fox's Nov. 12 debut -- challenger Junior dos Santos took heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez's crown with a one-minute knockout -- averaged a 3.1 rating/5 share and 5.7 million watchers, according to Nielsen fast national data.
It was the most-watched UFC event ever and the most-watched professional fight of any kind in eight years, according to Fox officials. The June 21, 2003 heavyweight title boxing match that saw Lennox Lewis TKOd Vitali Klitschko averaged 7.0 million watchers on HBO.
Saturday night's telecast was the most-viewed professional fight on a broadcast network, since Oscar de la Hoya's Fight Night scored a 4.3/6 and 5.9 million viewers in 1998.
Spike averaged 5.3 million viewers during the Sept. 30, 2008 edition of The Ultimate Fighter: Heavyweights, which featured then-Internet sensation Kimbo Slice and Roy Nelson.
Santos' victory on Saturday night marked the coming out party for UFC with Fox, which signed a seven-year, $700 million deal with the MMA circuit in August. The deal encompasses an expansive number of fights and ancillary programming on the broadcast network, FX, Fuel and Fox Deportes.
The UFC on Fox squared up against the Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez boxing pay-per-view card, as well as college football action highlighted by ABC's coverage of Oregon-Stanford, which averaged a 6.0/11, while NBC scored a 1.4/3 for Maryland-Notre Dame. For its part, ESPN averaged a 1.5/3 in prime for Alabama-Mississippi. The overnights for those three games combined for an 8.9/17 in primetime. Among guys 18 to 34, the UFC on Fox premiere posted a 4.3, better than any college football telecast this season on any network, save for CBS's coverage of No. 1 vs. No. 2 LSU-Alabama matchup on Nov. 5.
The most recent mixed martial arts programming on broadcast television was a series of EliteXC events on CBS in 2008, with the May 31 event averaging 4.9 million viewers. The UFC on Fox also out-delivered the EliteXC show in household rating (3.1 vs. 3.0) and across key male demos: 34% among guys 18 to 34 (4.3 vs. 3.2); 33% against males 18 to 49 (4.0 vs. 3.0); and 23% with men 25 to 54 (3.8 vs. 3.1).