So-so ratings for Emelianenko-Werdum

Fedor Emelianenko’s second fight on U.S. television was not as successful as the first – in more ways than one.

Saturday’s tapout heard ‘round the world, when he lost to Fabricio Werdum in 1:09, will likely go down as one of those sports moments that a lot more people claim to have seen live than really did.

The two-hour show itself did a 1.5 rating and 492,000 total viewers on Showtime, better than average mixed martial artsnumbers on the network, but not close to the network’s previous high marks.

Last summer’s Gina Carano vs. Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos women’s title fight set a Showtime record with a 2.2 rating. Herschel Walker’s MMA debut on Jan. 30 did a 1.8 rating. Emelianenko’s numbers were also lower than several shows headlined by both Kimbo Slice and Frank Shamrock.

Emelianenko came with a higher price tag than the others, however, including having to give his M-1 Global backing company co-promotional rights.

The Russian’s first appearance on U.S. television on Nov. 7, a win over Brett Rogers on CBS, did a 2.5 rating. The show was not a ratings home run, but was considered a success. In particular, Emelianenko vs. Rogers, gaining 1.49 million new viewers from the previous fight, was the second biggest fight in U.S. television MMA history when it comes to new viewers being added to the telecast.

The prior major Strikeforce event, on May 15, headlined by Alistair Overeem defending the heavyweight title against Brett Rogers, did a 1.0 rating, showing that Overeem, in his first live major television appearance on U.S. television (he had appeared on HDNet events televised live from Japan), needs time to develop interest among U.S. consumers.

As is almost always the case when there is a major MMA show from another promotion on television, UFC countered with a head-to-head replay of the May 8 UFC 113 show from Montreal, where Mauricio “Shogun” Rua won the light heavyweight title from Lyoto Machida, and featuring Slice’s UFC exodus in his loss to Matt Mitrione.

That show did a 1.1 rating and 1,483,000 viewers. The number is along lines of what similar replays of major UFC events being put head-to-head with Strikeforce receive on the station.

Comparing viewers directly between Spike and Showtime isn’t really a fair way of doing it since Showtime is a premium network and only a fraction of the number of homes that get Spike also get Showtime.

In addition, ratings are the ultimate decision maker on regular television when it comes to success and failure, but on premium cable, they are only part of the equation. The key for Showtime, which has no advertising on the channel, is whether programming adds subscribers to the station. If MMA delivers so-so ratings, but having regular MMA events brings with it a decent number of new subscribers that wouldn’t order the station otherwise, then it is successful programming.

Having said that, this was the latest of a lesson that gets told over and over again: What the general public wants when it comes to MMA, is seeing personalities that intrigue them. Being the No. 1 ranked heavyweight in the world, as Emelianenko was for years, will help you get above-average numbers, but it’s about star power and neither Shamrock nor Slice were on anyone’s top ten radar when they pulled numbers better ratings than Emelianenko.

Dave Meltzer covers mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Send Dave a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Jun 29, 2010