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Bellator 98 Poster-478x270Bellator MMA kicked off its ninth season on Saturday night with Bellator 98: Shlemenko vs. Cooper. The season opener delivered an average of 437,000 viewers over the course of the three-hour broadcast on Spike TV.

Bellator faced some stiff competition, launching Season 9 opposite college football and NASCAR, which was reflected in the ratings.

By comparison, Bellator Season 8, the promotion’s first on Spike, opened to 938,000 viewers.

Much of the decline can be contributed to the competition, but viewer confusion over the promotion’s timeslot likely has just as much to do with the low TV ratings.

Season eight took place on Thursday nights. The promotion’s two Summer Series events then moved to Wednesday nights. Season 9 kicked off on Saturday night with Bellator 98, but this week, the promotion moves to its Friday night timeslot for the remainder of the season, save for the Bellator 106: Rampage vs. Tito pay-per-view on Saturday, Nov. 2.

“It was a new night for us; so it’s quite a challenge in getting viewers to find it,” David Schwarz, Spike’s Senior Vice President of Communications told MMAWeekly.com on Tuesday.

“The ratings improved throughout the show, which is encouraging, against incredible competition (college football and NASCAR). The Notre Dame-Michigan football game delivered 8.7 million viewers.”

Bellator 98 also underwent a drastic metamorphosis by the time it actually took place. It was supposed to feature the Fight Master reality series finale. That fight was delayed when one of the finalists, Joe Riggs, was injured in training. The event was also intended to include former featherweight champion Joe Warren, but his fight was nixed when he was not allowed to compete due to concerns about the medical paperwork he filed with the Mohegan Tribe Department of Athletic Regulation. Middleweight tournament fighter Andreas Spang was also deemed ineligible to compete on the day of weigh-ins.

All of this came after original middleweight title challenger Doug Marshall was forced out of the main event due to injury.

The Bellator middleweight championship bout between Alexander Shlemenko and new challenger Brett Cooper was a showstopper, which was reflected in the ratings.

The main event delivered 595,000 viewers, peaking at a high point of 663,000 viewers.

Bellator starts its Friday night run with this week’s Bellator 99, which features Patricio “Pitbull” Freire vs. Diego Nunes in the main event, with hopes that settling in for the season brings with it an upward trend to the ratings.

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