While the 16th season of The Ultimate Fighter was a full-on dumpster fire as far as fights go, the UFC fixed that by not only dumping the majority of this season's cast, but put on a fairly loaded free card that delivered high-level entertainment. The ratings for the TUF 16 Finale main card on FX came in at a 1.3 million average according to MMA Junkie:
The Ultimate Fighter 16 Finale averaged 1.3 million FX viewers this past Saturday, MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com) on Tuesday confirmed with industry sources.
Additionally, the FUEL TV-televised preliminary card averaged 104,000 viewers.
Two things I'll point out:
1.) Solid main card on paper, and it was excellent in practice. The only terrible fight was fittingly the Colton Smith/Mike Ricci TUF final, a fight so bad that Steve Mazzagatti presumably fell asleep standing up and completely missed Ricci taking a kick square in the balls. Familiar names like Roy Nelson, Pat Barry, and Melvin Guillard (before the fight was yanked) were advertised leading up to last weekend's show, and they're infinitely more recognizable and entertaining than anybody from TUF 16, which stands as the worst rated season ever.
2.) Saturday night instead of Friday night. This is the first time that the UFC has broadcast a live Fight Night or TUF Finale on a Saturday, and it paid off with very good numbers. In fact, only UFC on FX 2 in March (1.4 million) sported better numbers from the Fight Night and TUF cards. The TUF 15 finale was broadcast on a Friday night and only pulled in 1 million viewers, despite a big main event between Martin Kampmann and Jake Ellenberger. It's quite clear the Friday attempts aren't working and it's pretty clear-cut that the UFC and FX are aware of this.
2013 is a big year for FX. Not only are they moving TUF to Tuesdays, but the next FX card (Belfort vs. Bisping) is on a Saturday, and all UFC on FOX prelim specials have been shifted to that channel as well. Hopefully we see a good ratings shift from this as a result of dumping the Friday programming.