While "The Ultimate Fighter: Live" is drawing mostly positive reviews from MMA fans, the show hasn't yet proved a ratings monster in its first season on FX.
That said, UFC president Dana White isn't ready to push the panic button just yet.
"Far from it," White told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
). "Spirits are high around here. Everything is good."
Featuring UFC bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz and former WEC titleholder Urijah Faber in coaching roles, "The Ultimate Fighter: Live" is the 15th edition of the long-running reality-competition series and the first edition not to air on Spike TV. As part of the UFC's mega-deal with FOX, the series moved to FX this year and also is the first to feature live fights.
The move to a live format (as well as "jive-live" content recapping the previous week's activities each Friday night) has been a welcome change for MMA fans, many of whom felt "The Ultimate Fighter" concept was growing old.
However, the debut episode scored just 1.3 million viewers, down from the 1.5 million viewers who watched the first episode of the previous season.
And where the 14th edition of the series actually saw a slight increase in viewers for episode No. 2, this season's second episode actually saw the viewership fall to 1.1 million viewers (figures for the third episode should be available later today).
Despite the trends, White said both he and FX executives are comfortable with the early results.
"There's so many things that are involved in those numbers," White said. "I didn't expect to jump on FX and do 3.5 million viewers right out of the gate. But here's the thing: The format is awesome. It's perfect. We've got a great season, and we're going to build this thing.
"Believe me, the way that FX deals with their programming and how they handle it, they're so analytical. These guys are like [expletive] rocket scientists how they break this stuff down and look at it. Trust me, everything is positive over there."
After a debut episode that ran two-and-a-half hours and featured 16 one-round fights, fans have since been treated to two entertaining bouts between official cast members. With live fights, there's no longer a need to avoid spoilers, and there's been a sharp increase in social-media buzz as fighters' friends, families and teammates all watch alongside MMA fans, uncertain of what will happen in each episode.
White said he enjoys the new feel, and prior to Friday's opening-round bout between Justin Lawrence and Cristiano Marcello, the UFC boss said he found another benefit to the format.
"What's cool and that I just found out, sports books take action on the fights," White said. "You can bet on these fights, too. I was watching online, on Twitter, everyone talking about who to bet and everything else. Some dude said he bet $2,000 on Marcello. He's bumming right now."
So while "The Ultimate Fighter: Live" isn't yet performing up to the level of previous editions, White said there is no cause for concern. "March Madness" will wrap soon, casual viewers will eventually figure out the show is now on FX, and hardcore fans may very well become again interested in the show thanks to the new format.
"I couldn't be happier with this format," White said. "I love this format. You go the from the last five days of reality to a live fight. It's awesome. It's perfect."