Sound the alarm people, the ratings are in for the first episode of The Ultimate Fighter Season 16 and they make for grim reading.

Friday night’s premiere on FX was watched by just 974,000 viewers, the lowest rated debut in the show’s history.

Even TUF: Live, aka TUF 15, widely acknowledged as being a ratings flop throughout his run earlier this year, was able to produce 1.3 million viewers for it’s opening episode before falling consistently below the 1 million mark later in the series.

Given that Friday’s show was two hours of wall-to-wall elimination fights I’m still curious to see if they can rebound in the ratings once we get to the reality-tv style drama in the TUF house that was hinted at in the pre-season sneak-preview last week, but given the first week ratings they’ve got a very flimsy foundation to attempt to build from.

The finger of blame could be pointed at the Friday night slot which seems ill-suited for a show that’s target at the male 18-34 demographic. Personally I also think opting for Shane Carwin and Roy Nelson as season coaches was a mistake since neither is likely to move the needle ratings wise.

However, it’s also getting increasingly difficult to overlook the most obvious answer that The Ultimate Fighter format may simply have ran out of steam after a long and largely successful run on TV.

I’m not saying that it could fold completely – at the very least the international editions still have some legs, particularly in their targeted markets (TUF: Brazil for instance was a ratings hit in that region) – but it’s hard to envisage FX putting up with sub-par ratings in the longer term.

Let’s give it a few more weeks and see how the dust settles, but right now there’s certainly cause for concern.