Ronda Rousey may have laid the foundation for women fighting in the UFC, but women across the board are proving popular for the UFC.
Television ratings for shows headlined by women on either Fox or Fox Sports 1 are almost always above average and show the impact that women have made on the promotion since they began to compete in the UFC in 2013.
On Saturday in Denver, Valentina Shevchenko will meet Julianna Pena in a bout that will be broadcast live on Fox. The winner will most likely be women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes’ next challenger.
If history is a precedent, Fox will get a large number on Saturday.
Consider some of striking television ratings numbers the Fox Sports research department dug up at Yahoo Sports’ request:
• The Paige VanZant-Michelle Waterson card from Sacramento, Calif., on Dec. 17 was the most-watched UFC show on Fox since April 2013 and attracted the sixth-largest peak audience with 3.178 million viewers.
• Former women’s bantamweight champion Holly Holm headlined a July 23 card on Fox in Chicago against Shevchenko which drew 2.95 million viewers, ninth-best of UFC shows on Fox.
• The women’s strawweight title fight between Joanna Jędrzejczyk and Claudia Gadelha that headlined “The Ultimate Fighter Finale” on July 8 in Las Vegas was the second most-watched TUF Finale on Fox Sports 1.
• The three UFC cards on Fox Sports 1 that have been headlined by women averaged 1.065 million viewers, which is 21 percent higher than the average of UFC cards on FS1 headlined by men. The three shows headlined by women on FS1 are Jędrzejczyk-Gadelha II, Carla Esparza-Rose Namajunas and Cris “Cyborg” Justino against Lina Lansberg.
Six times, women headlined the PPV preliminaries that were on FS1 also produced exceptional ratings, all finishing in the top 20. That is more impressive when you consider that the entirety of the top 10 came on nights when either Conor McGregor, Anderson Silva or women fighters headlined the pay-per-view.
• The six PPV prelims headlined by women on FS1 averaged 1.341 million viewers, up 42 percent over cards headlined by men.
It always helps to have a good lead-in, and so headlining a PPV prelim when McGregor is in the main event of the pay-per-view is a plus.
But the numbers don’t lie and show that women’s fights are proving to be as popular, if not more popular, than the men among Fox and FS1 viewers.
That’s why it might be wise for the UFC to consider a 125-pound women’s class, to give it four women’s classes and allow women who are too big for 115 or too small for 135 to have a place to compete.
It also means it will pay to keep an eye on the ratings next week of the Pena-Shevchenko fight. It seems a pretty good bet to come close to, if not exceeding, three million viewers.
As these numbers show, as well as Rousey’s pay-per-view numbers, allowing women to compete in the UFC is the best decision Dana White ever made.