By Jake Donovan
HBO begins the second half of its 2014 boxing season with its biggest non-Pay-Per-View star in the headliner, as Gennady Golovkin returns to the network and to New York for a middleweight title defense versus former champ Daniel Geale.
The bout takes place this Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Golovkin’s first appearance in the main room after three fights in the accompanying Theatre venue in 2013. In the evening’s co-feature, unbeaten heavyweights Bryant Jennings and Mike Perez collide in a title eliminator bout rescheduled from this past May.
Golovkin’s star continues to rise with each ring appearance, to where fans expressed outrage when his return to Monte Carlo earlier this year did not come with stateside TV coverage. A knockout of Osumana Adama was seen in over 140 countries, but the U.S. not being one of them. HBO initially passed on the fight, deeming it a mismatch not worth sending a camera crew overseas.
Reconsideration into the matter resulted in logistic issues disallowing the network to set up camp, thus leaving stateside fans forced to “listen on the radio” (Writer’s note: Credit to UCNLive.com’s Steve Kim for the code phrase) and await his U.S. return. That moment was supposed to come in April at Madison Square Garden, but the untimely passing of Golovkin’s father forced the unbeaten middleweight to withdraw from a planned title defense versus Andy Lee.
Given the turnout at Wednesday’s press conference in New York City, it’s safe to say that absence has made the heart grow fonder.
“Gennady Golovkin's ascent has been something to watch,” Peter Nelson, Director of Programming for HBO noted during Wednesday’s press conference in New York City. “From his first appearance at Madison Square Garden (stopping Gabriel Rosado in seven rounds last January) to his most recent (an 8th round knockout of Curtis Stevens last November), there was a 70% increase in viewership. It's a credit to Gennady, to Tom Loeffler and K2 Promotions and (MSG Executive Vice President) Joel Fisher and his team bringing these events to the Big Apple.”
The win over Stevens— Golovkin’s fourth ring appearance of 2013, which also included a pair of vicious 3rd round knockout wins over Matthew Macklin and Nobuhiro Ishida—landed as the third highest-rated cable TV fight of 2013. Drawing more than 1.4 million viewers, the fight landed just behind HBO-televised appearances by boxing superstars Miguel Cotto and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in back-to-back weekends earlier that fall.
“It's only been two years since Gennady made his HBO debut. He's the highest rated boxer among fighters who've not (yet) appeared on pay-per-view,” noted Tom Loeffler, Managing Director for K2 Promotions and the driving force behind Golovkin’s aggressive marketing strategy. “HBO has done a great job with the marketing, with the "Road To…" show, the billboard on Times Square… HBO is just awesome.”
Loeffler was even so bold as to satisfy demand in offering his take on Saturday’s show at the Garden, which is nearly sold out.
“A lot of you are asking me to make a prediction, so I will. I predict this will be the highest rated telecast of the year, on HBO and on the international level.”
To date, Chavez Jr. owns the highest rated fight of 2014, drawing 1.39 million viewers for his rematch win over Bryan Vera this past March. The bout was slightly below the ratings pull for their first fight, which drew just over 1.4 million viewers.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene.com, as well as the Records Keeper for the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and a member of Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox