By Jake Donovan
Everything about Terence Crawford’s rallying 9th round knockout of Yuriorkis Gamboa turned out to be a huge success, from the ring results to the crowd and now in terms of viewing audience.
HBO ended the first half of its 2014 boxing schedule with a bang, with their June 28 event drawing an average audience of 1.208 million viewers. The show marked the first time that HBO televised a boxing event from Omaha, Nebraska, and all indications suggest there is more to come.
The success is attributed in large part to Crawford, who made the first defense of his lightweight title and also his debut as an HBO headliner. The formula was a big hit, drawing 10,943 fans into the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, and his nine-round war with Gamboa registering as the second most-watched cable TV fight of 2014 to date.
The show topped out at 1.286 million viewers. Both the peak and average audience figures are good for the highest-rated HBO Boxing After Dark telecast of 2014 to date. The feat establishes a welcomed trend by HBO; the year’s previous best was established just two weeks prior, when Chris Algieri’s upset win over Ruslan Provodnikov drew more than 1 million viewers.
In the televised co-feature, Matt Korobov scored two knockdowns en route to a 10-round decision over Jose Uzcategui. The matchup of unbeaten middleweights proved painful to watch for the most part, but still drawing an average of 929,000 viewers, including a peak audience of 1.066 million viewers.
Crawford (24-0, 17KO) was making his fourth appearance on HBO, but his first as a headlining act. The night also served as his first fight in his hometown of Omaha, and just second overall pro fight in Nebraska. A star was truly born in a part of the country that lacks a pro sports franchise and whose history in the sport isn’t very extensive.
Top Rank, who promotes Crawford, announced intentions to return to Omaha before the year is out. By then, there stands a chance that the rising star also rises in weight; rumors of having struggled to make the lightweight limit for Saturday’s fight were followed with suggestions that his immediate future will reside in the 140 lb. division.
One rise that can be confirmed is his increase in ratings whenever he steps into the ring. Crawford made his HBO-televised debut last March, accepting a last-minute assignment versus Breidis Prescott as the televised co-feature to the rematch between Mike Alvarado and Brandon Rios. Crawford prevailed by unanimous decision in a fight that averaged 845,000 viewers.
His ring return came three months later, stopping Alejandro Sanabria in the 6th round of a bout that averaged 1.107 million viewers, the first of three consecutive times Crawford has now drew more than 1 million viewers for a fight.
An October ’13 points win over Andriy Klimov proved tough to watch, but still kept the interest of 1.11 million viewers who tuned in. The fight was sandwiched in between heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko’s painful-to-watch points win over Alexander Povetkin and the ring return of Miguel Cotto, who stopped Delvin Rodriguez in three rounds in his first fight back following a 10-month layoff.
With little in the way of a supporting cast on Saturday, Crawford rose to the occasion on every level. His equally-matched opponent, the supremely talented Gamboa has appeared several times before on HBO but has never evolved beyond a cult following. The previously unbeaten Cuban was fighting for the first time in more than a year, but managed to control the action early on before his chin gave in.
Ironically, Crawford’s lone appearance away from HBO’s cameras in his past five fights came on the one night that outperformed Saturday’s show in the ratings. His title-winning effort over Ricky Burns took place on the road in Glasgow, Scotland this past March. The biggest win of his career came hours before Julio Cesar Chavez Jr’s rematch win over Bryan Vera in March, which remains the highest-rated fight of 2014 on HBO and on cable TV in general.
Crawford’s success in and out of the ring gives HBO the top eight spots in the most-watched cable TV fights of 2014 to date.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox