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UFC 235 prelims draw big ratings number on ESPN

Saturday night's UFC 235 prelims averaged 1.48 million viewers on ESPN.

That's the highest number for a pay-per-view prelims show since UFC drew 1.51 million viewers on FS1 for the UFC 207 prelims in December 2016, and that PPV was headlined by Ronda Rousey's last MMA fight.

The number was up 10 percent from the UFC 234 prelims, which had the benefit of a giant lead-in from a Duke vs. Virginia college basketball game.

This weekend's show also had a college basketball game airing before it -- but with about half the audience, so the strong number this weekend was more due to interest in the UFC PPV itself. That is corroborated by UFC 235 being Google's most searched for item in North America on Saturday.

The UFC 235 prelims finished first in the important 18-49 demo with a 0.63 rating and were 12th for the day in terms of total cable TV viewers. The 0.63 rating was also higher than any show on network TV during prime time -- so, for that demo, UFC was the most watched of any TV show.

All of this would lead one to believe that the PPV, headlined by Jon Jones' successful light heavyweight title defense against Anthony Smith, did a stronger-than-usual number. Dave Meltzer had predicted around 575,000 buys before the show, while my own numbers at MMADraws.com suggested a number in the 450,000-500,000 range.

UFC returns to ESPN+ this coming weekend with a show from Wichita, with the next ESPN card coming Saturday, March 30 for an event headlined by Edson Barboza vs. Justin Gaethje from Philadelphia.