UFC president Dana White said he can hardly believe what he sees when he examines the ratings each week for the current season of 'The Ultimate Fighter' on Fox Sports 1. When there is a women's fight on, as there has been in weeks 1, 3 and 5, the ratings are up. When it's a men's fight, there is a noticeable decline in viewership.
The three women's fights are averaging 791,000 viewers, a 20 percent spike over the 640,000 viewers the two men's fights averaged.
White, who for a long time was a vocal opponent of women's fighting, said it continues a trend that champion Ronda Rousey started when she headlined UFC 157 in February against Liz Carmouche.
That bout garnered extraordinary mainstream media attention, enough so that White felt compelled to thank the media at the post-fight news conference.
The UFC doesn't release its pay-per-view figures, but White said the number was exceptional and far more than he'd expected.
"When Christy Martin was fighting on those [Mike] Tyson undercards and Laila Ali was at her peak, you didn't see the women in boxing pulling these kinds of numbers," White said. "This is crazy what we've been doing. The women, for whatever reason, are just kicking ass."
White said he believes that UFC 168, scheduled for Dec. 28 in Las Vegas, will be the company's best-selling pay-per-view card ever. That card is topped by a rematch between Chris Weidman and Anderson Silva for the middleweight title, but White thinks the women's rematch between Rousey and Miesha Tate, the coaches on this year's TUF, will be just as significant to the results.
On the UFC's "World Tour," in the summer, there was more interest in Rousey and Tate than any of the other fighters. That tour included the UFC's heavy hitters, including welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, Silva and heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez.
Rousey and Tate will continue to get exposure each week on TUF and White expects interest in the bout to reach a crescendo by December.
"I honestly think 168 is going to be massive, and will be the biggest pay-per-view we've ever done," said White, who said he wasn't sure which of his shows is the best-seller. "And I think you'll see Ronda and Miesha right out in front in terms of attention. That is going to add a tremendous amount to the card."
White loved the fight on Wednesday in which Raquel Pennington defeated Jessamyn Duke in a slugfest. He said there are several other outstanding fights among the women that have yet to air that will likely push the ratings even higher.
The quicker than expected success of the women won't lead White to add another division any time soon.
"We have to build this division the right way and we have a lot of work still to do," he said of the women's bantamweights. "That's going to take some time, and when we get it to where we want it to be, then I think we can talk about adding another [female] division."