By Keith Idec
Sergey Kovalev’s return from his second defeat to Andre Ward was a success in and out of the ring.
According to ratings released Wednesday by Nielsen Media Research, a peak audience of 900,000 viewers tuned in to HBO to watch Kovalev knock out Vyacheslav Shabranskyy in the second round Saturday night in The Theater at Madison Square Garden. An average audience of 869,000 saw Kovalev-Shabranskyy, which didn’t have much time to build an audience because Kovalev demolished his overmatched opponent so quickly.
Only one fight HBO has televised live this year – Terrence Crawford-Felix Diaz – did better ratings than Kovalev-Shabranskyy. Crawford’s technical-knockout win against Diaz drew a peak viewership of 1,036,000 and averaged 961,000 viewers May 20 from Madison Square Garden.
The 34-year-old Kovalev’s previous two fights were broadcast by HBO Pay-Per-View.
He lost the first of those fights to Ward by a widely debated unanimous decision a year ago in Las Vegas. Ward stopped Kovalev in the eighth round of their light heavyweight championship rematch June 17 in Las Vegas, but that, too, was a controversial result because Ward landed multiple punches below Kovalev’s belt line just before referee Tony Weeks stopped that fight.
Russia’s Kovalev (31-2-1, 27 KOs) had no such trouble with Shabranskky (19-2, 16 KOs). He knocked down the Ukrainian contender three times on his way to winning back the WBO light heavyweight title he lost to Ward, who gave it up when he retired two months ago.
Earlier Saturday night, the opener of HBO’s tripleheader – Yuriorkis Gamboa against Jason Sosa – was watched by a peak audience of 846,000 viewers and an average audience of 763,000. Cuba’s Gamboa (28-2, 17 KOs) beat Sosa (20-3-4, 15 KOs), of Camden, New Jersey, by majority decision in a competitive, 10-round battle between former 130-pound champions.
Gamboa, 35, won that fight despite that Sosa was credited with a knockdown in the seventh round and referee Ron Lipton deducted a point from Gamboa for holding in the 10th round.
The second bout HBO televised Saturday night, light heavyweight contender Sullivan Barrera’s defeat of Felix Valera, peaked at 805,000 viewers and was watched by an average of 760,000 viewers.
Cuba’s Barrera (21-1, 14 KOs) got up from a first-round knockdown to drop the unconventional Valera (15-2, 13 KOs) in the first round and won a unanimous decision by large margins on all three scorecards.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.