So Much For Boxing Being Dead: Pacquiao-Horn A Ratings Hit
By: Sean Crose
What’s in a name? If that name is Manny Pacquiao, almost four and a half million sets of eyeballs. ESPNs broadcast of the Manny Pacquiao-Jeff Horn welterweight title fight in Australia peaked at 4.4 million viewers on Saturday (with an average viewership of 3.1 million) making this past weekend’s stunning upset an impressive debut for Top Rank’s partnership with the beleaguered sports network. Reports of boxing’s demise, which have been going on since, oh, 1892, have once again proven to be greatly exaggerated.
The four fight card, which ran quite late on the east coast, was highlighted by the biggest upset the sport has seen in years. To make matters even more bombastic, the decision, which favored Horn over the legendary Filipino warrior, was highly controversial. This might have, on the surface of things, appeared bad for Top Rank and ESPN, but it electrified Twitter and casual sports fans who rarely tune in to boxing cards. Network notables like Teddy Atlas and Stephen A Smith were vocally horrified while stars like Kobe Bryant and Samuel L Jackson tweeted their displeasure. Rather than a boring debut, the card became “a thing.”
ESPN and Top Rank are preparing to give fans a lot more high level boxing in the future. Ukrainian wunderkind Vasyl Lomachenko will be headlining a card in August while dominant junior welterweight titlist Bud Crawford will find himself in a title eliminator a few weeks later. Throw in a possible Pacquiao-Horn rematch and what might be the ring return of Tim Bradley (who was part of Saturday’s broadcast team) and it’s clear big names are headed to basic cable.
Top Rank chief Arum parted ways with long standing partner HBO recently when it became clear that Arum could no longer air the fights he wanted the way he wanted to on the network. With that in mind, he took his business away from pay cable and over to ESPN, which has been having troubles of it’s own lately, with a decrease in subscriptions and a diminished reputation. Arum needed a network. ESPN needed something fresh. The rest is history – or at least the beginning of a partnership which will hopefully prove fruitful to all involved – especially the fans.
As long as Arum and ESPN continue to give the public what it likes, all should go well. Remember that this is boxing, however, and judges’ cards aren’t the only things that often get screwed up before our very eyes.