WSOF 1's debut ratings fell in line with most expectations (and, in fact, matched Bellator's weekly average on MTV2 and topped the UFC on FUEL TV event series average on FUEL TV). The WSOF event, which saw Andrei Arlovski knock out fellow heavyweight Devin Cole in the headliner, drew similar numbers to what NBC Sports Network has garnered with some recent boxing programming.
However, before its rebranding as NBC Sports Network, the UFC on Versus event series averaged 868,500 viewers on the channel. Additionally, Versus averaged 601,000 viewers for the 18 WEC events it aired between 2008 and 2010.
Zach Arnold had some interesting commentary about the debut show and the booking strategy:
First, the skinny. Ray Sefo's name is on the MMAWC LLC along with Sig Rogich, who's an establishment Republican backer but is also an ally to Harry Reid in Las Vegas. In other words, a long-time political player with some juice. But, as we know from the history of money marks in the fight business, even rich people hate losing money and don't always have the strongest of stomachs to burn cash long-term. There were murmurs behind the scenes before the first show on Saturday that Rogich & company were contacting some big sponsors to put up some cash in exchange for joint ventureship. Whether WSOF got anyone to bite on that, I don't know. The sales pitch allegedly was that WSOF had a year-long deal with NBCSN, but as we all know that deal is basically a per-show contract in regards to whether or not NBCSN will push events long-term. You could tell some bets were hedged based on the fact that the second show date for WSOF wasn't pushed hard on the television broadcast.
Every time a new start-up emerges, there's always a rush to judgment as far as whether or not to push the next league as a potential rival to UFC. It's not going to happen here at all. The matchmaking gave us a clue as to why. There were three routes: 1) book fights with exciting finishes (i.e. mismatches), 2) book the most competitive & even fights (UFC philosophy), 3) book some cornerstones and build for the future. In the case of the first WSOF show, we got more of option 1 but it wasn't the prettiest thing in the world to watch. Tyrone Spong basically had a sparring match with an easy target in the cage. Anthony Johnson had his KO moment. Miguel Torres lost in excruciating fashion. Andrei Arlovski fought Devin Cole. Seriously, Devin Cole, a guy with a legal record who isn't a great fighter. Who on Earth thought that it would be a good idea to put Devin Cole in a main event of a debut show in order to attract sponsors to buy into the promotion for future shows? Why don't we have a Gilles Arsene cameo while we're at it.
It will be interesting to see if WSOF manages to mount a second event. Arnold's point that Andrei Arlovski and Anthony Johnson are hardly the kind of headliners that will post a threat to the UFC.