Last week was the first ever headlining spot for Cub Swanson and just the second for Jeremy Stephens. Swanson took an entertaining unanimous decision over Stephens in San Antonio to earn (likely) a title shot against the Jose Aldo/Chad Mendes winner. Unfortunately for Cub, his main event debut did not produce good ratings. Fox Sports' Sr. Director of Digital Strategy Carleton Curtis has the details on this card's ratings:
That's a 42% drop from UFC Fight Night: Henderson vs. Khabilov, which averaged 1.24 million. According to The MMA Report, the show's viewership peaked at 852,000 during the first hour. Of course, the string of decisions on the main card meant that the the main event didn't start until 1 AM ET on the East Coast, which is later than most PPVs.
This is really not a good number, but it's also not particularly stunning. There were hardly any identifiable names on the card, including TUF 17 winner Kelvin Gastelum. In contrast, UFC Fight Night: Henderson vs. Khabilov had impressive ratings with a well-known former champion in the main event, plus Diego Sanchez and John Dodson also occupying prominent spots on the card.
While Swanson vs. Stephens is a fine fight and (at least to me) a good main event, this highlights the lack of even cable TV draws the UFC has below lightweight. Swanson is an exciting, talented fighter who can legitimately compete for a title, but the "must-watch" appeal isn't there. Jeremy Stephens was nearly cut two years ago and now is headlining shows, and even beforehand he was a fringe top 15 lightweight at best and thus never seriously pushed as someone who could even be a co-main on a Fight Night. They've spent the bulk of their careers as main card openers on UFNs or on PPV, so it's really not that reasonable to expect a significant level of interest in them as compared to Lyoto Machida (whose fight with Gegard Mousasi averaged 1.4 million viewers).