Just like he did last year for CBS, Kimbo Slice delivered massive ratings on Wednesday for Spike TV. Slice's much-heralded fighting debut on Season 10 of "The Ultimate Fighter," in which he lost by second-round technical knockout to Roy Nelson, drew 6.8 million viewers, said Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White.
White said an average of 5.3 million viewers tuned in for the initial viewing of the show, which aired at 10 p.m. Eastern Time. The immediate replay, which began at 11 p.m. ET, attracted an average of 1.5 million viewers. White said a normal 11 p.m. immediate replay draws "a hell of a lot less than 1.5 million." Many of the show's first-run episodes have not attracted that many viewers in recent seasons.
The sheer volume of viewers surpassed the amount Slice attracted for his May 31, 2008, bout with James Thompson on CBS. That live Elite XC card peaked at 6.51 million viewers during the Slice-Thompson fight.
The UFC had relentlessly hyped Wednesday's episode, calling the Slice-Nelson fight the biggest match in the show's history. The show's final 15 minutes, when the fight was shown for the first time, did a 7.86 rating among males ages 18 to 34. Overall, the fight itself had 6.1 million viewers.
"These numbers are beyond huge," White said. "I'm blown away. I honestly am blown away. I knew it was going to be big. This is massive. Do you understand how significant these numbers are, getting more viewers than CBS?"
Slice's addition to the Season 10 cast has helped the show garner record ratings – more than three times their normal number – through the first three weeks. The one-time street brawler, who made his reputation with a series of videos on YouTube that drew tens of millions of views, has continued to attract viewers despite less than stellar fighting credentials.
In his last fight prior to facing Nelson on "The Ultimate Fighter," Slice was knocked out in just 14 seconds by light heavyweight Seth Petruzelli on a fight broadcast live on CBS.
Just three days shy of a year to the day after his loss to Petruzelli, droves of viewers tuned in Wednesday to watch him fight Nelson on Spike in a match taped in June. The ratings were boosted in no small part by the UFC's massive marketing push. White said Wednesday's episode generated the highest number of males 18-34 and males 18-49 in the network's history. It beat out the September 2007 UFC 75 card headlined by Quinton Jackson vs. Dan Henderson and an Ultimate Fight Night card that featured the third bout between Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock.
"It's hard to say why, but some people have it and some don't, and Kimbo definitely does," White said.
White wasn't impressed by Nelson's performance in stopping Slice and hasn't been pleased with the fights in any of the first three weeks. But he said that will change for the better soon.
"It's a really good season," White said. "The fight (between Slice and Nelson) sucked. I wasn't happy with any of the fights the first three weeks, to be honest. I was disappointed by the way we came out of the gate in terms of the fights. But the fights really get better. By episode 8, believe me when I tell you, you're going to be going wild."
White wouldn't say whether Slice will fight in December on either the show's live finale on Dec. 5 in Las Vegas or at UFC 107 a week later in Memphis, Tenn. Slice alluded to such a bout during a promotional conference call on Monday.
White, though, hinted that Slice may return to fight again on the reality show, as was briefly suggested in the coming attractions.
"Hang in there, man," White said when asked if Slice were going to fight for the UFC in December. "The season's not over yet. Stay tuned is all I'll tell you."
Dave Meltzer contributed to this report.