By Jake Donovan
Emotions remain mixed on whether fans love or loathe Bernard Hopkins, but one thing is for sure; both sides are tuning in whenever he fights.
Hopkins’ light heavyweight title defense against mandatory challenger Karo Murat, which aired live on Showtime, was witnessed by one million viewers at its peak viewing points, according to Nielsen Media Research.
The number is good for the second best for the network during a 2013 campaign that continues to draw industry-wide high praise. With the win, the 48–year young pugilist became the oldest fighter ever to successfully defend a major title, breaking his own record set just over two years ago.
The future Hall of Famer has been inconsistent at the live gate, but continues to serve as a ratings hit when not forced to carry a pay-per-view event. His title-winning effort over Tavoris Cloud this past March drew 1.2 million viewers on what may be his last ever fight on HBO, who boasts a subscriber base of roughly 25% more than Showtime, which means Hopkins’ last fight on each network registered the same share.
Showtime has now generated four separate events drawing one million viewers or more during a 2013 campaign that continues to enjoy a huge ratings spike. The network has experienced a 62% increase in its live boxing viewership since restructuring its sports programming division in late 2011, which included the appointment of Stephen Espinoza as general Manager and executive vice president, replacing Ken Hershman who left to assume the same role with HBO.
“SHOWTIME has quickly emerged as the premiere destination for big-time boxing," said Espinoza. “We have the biggest stars in the sport fighting their most challenging, and often career-defining, fights. It’s no surprise that our subscribers have responded. We are thrilled with the gains we have achieved thus far, but we are not finished yet. It all starts with the commitment from the fighters--and their promoters--to challenge themselves against top contenders. As such, the drama has never been greater, the stakes never higher."
The average viewership over the course of the three-plus hour tripleheader was the network’s second highest of the year. The show also increased Showtime Championship Boxing’s average ratings by 23% since last year.
The evening was full circle for Hopkins (54-6-2, 32KO) in a number of ways. His showdown with Murat came two weeks after the 25th anniversary of his pro debut, which also took place in Atlantic City. Hopkins dropped a four-round decision to fellow debutant Clinton Mitchell, then went on a five-year win streak before running into Roy Jones in their vacant title fight in May ’93.
Showtime was along for the ride when Hopkins won his first title, knocking out Segundo Mercado in the April ’95 rematch to begin a middleweight title reign that would span ten years. Their 12-round draw, which came four months prior, also aired on Showtime, as did three of his middleweight title defenses – a knockout win over John David Jackson, and a no-contest and stoppage win in back-to-back fights with Robert Allen in 1998 and 1999.
Hopkins’ draw with Pascal marked his first fight on Showtime in nearly 12 years. Their rematch took place five months later on HBO, as Hopkins, 46 years old at the time, won the bout to become the oldest fighter ever to win a lineal championship and the oldest to win a title of any kind, until breaking his own record on the latter earlier this year.
A pair of fights with Chad Dawson also came on HBO’s dime, fighting to a no-contest before losing the light heavyweight crown in their unwatchable rematch four months later.
Last weekend’s mandatory title defense versus Murat featured its fair share of ugly moments and fouls, but also drew praise for the level of action exuded throughout the second half of the fight.
With one million viewers tuning in for Hopkins’ 33rd career championship fight (30 with an actual alphabet belt on the line, plus three more beltless lineal World title fights), the evening mande for the 5th highest peak audience Showtime has enjoyed since tracking such statistics. All five events have come in past 13 months, beginning with Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez’ knockout win over Josesito atop of a Showtime quadrupleheader last September.
Alvarez owns the network’s highest ever boxing rating, which came with his points win over Austin Trout this past April. Trout was also involved in another fight which drew more than one million viewers, his win on the road in New York City versus Miguel Cotto last December.
The fifth fight included in that list was Adrien Broner’s points win over Paul Malignaggi this past June, in what served as his Showtime Championship Boxing debut.
Hopkins and Golden Boy Promotions have yet to determine the path he will next travel, though Showtime figures to be along for the ride. The outspoken fighter pledged his allegiance to his promoter and their network of choice during Saturday’s post-fight press conference.
Whomever it’s against, the safest bet is that fans will be tuning in to brass-pleasing numbers.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox