By Jake Donovan
Fans in Canada responded in droves to the January 18 light heavyweight bout between Jean Pascal and Lucian Bute, but the HBO-televised headliner barely caused a ripple anywhere else in North America.
Televised ratings for the live boxing telecast from Montreal drew an average of roughly 877,000 viewers, the lowest total for any World Championship Boxing telecast in more than 13 months, according to Nielsen Media Research. The main event averaged 982,000 viewers, topping out at around 1.13 million.
Pascal won a 12-round decision in a matchup of former champions. Bute seemed disinterested in engaging until late in the fight, briefly creating anxious moments in an otherwise tepid affair. In the televised co-feature, heavyweight contender Mike Perez was forced to overcome a cut early in the fight to barely escape with a 10-round draw over a determined Carlos Takam.
While HBO dominated the ratings in 2013 – landing 21 of the Top 25 most watched cable televised boxing shows on the year – the card marks its second straight in which the network failed to generate 1 million viewers. Worse, the January 18 rating reflects a 13% decrease from the 2013 season average, which was already down 18% overall from the numbers posted in 2011.
HBO enjoyed a steady 2013 campaign overall, but ended with a whimper; its December 7 season finale topped out at 718,000 viewers, with the overall show averaging a dismal 518,000 viewers, the lowest rating in the history of its Boxing After Dark series.
The headliner saw Guillermo Rigondeaux take a 12-round shutout over a reluctant Joseph Agbeko, a bout that decreased in viewership and live attendance as the rounds progressed.
The high ratings point of that evening came from the co-feature, when James Kirkland stopped Glen Tapia in the 6th round of their super welterweight thriller.
The anticipated bout between Pascal and Bute was supposed to take place last May, in a split site package with Carl Froch’s eventual 12-round win over Mikkel Kessler in their thrilling rematch. Those plans fell through when Bute suffered a broken hand, thus postponing the bout by nearly eight months.
More than 20,000 fans packed into the Bell Centre in Montreal to take in the action between two of the nation’s favorite adopted boxing sons. However, the interest didn’t carry over among HBO viewers. In addition to there being little at stake in the fight, it was questioned how a doubleheader lacking championship action could serve as a showcase for the network’s World Championship Boxing series.
The network hopes to bounce back strong this weekend, as Mikey Garcia defends his 130 lb. title versus Juan Carlos Burgos. The bout – which marks Garcia’s fifth straight appearance on HBO – headlines on the 2014 premiere of Boxing After Dark, with Bryant Jennings and Artur Szpilka colliding in a scheduled 10-round heavyweight bout in the co-feature.
Garcia drew consistently well in all three of his network appearances in 2013. However, the show faces direct competition from network rival Showtime, which makes its 2014 debut with a fan-friendly doubleheader from Washington D.C.
The main event pits a local favorite from the nation’s capital, 140 lb. titlist Lamont Peterson in a scheduled 12-round bout with unbeaten Dierry Jean, while super welterweight contenders Jermell Charlo and Gabriel Rosado square off in the televised co-feature.
The last time the two cable giants went head-to-head produced dismal results for both - the aforementioned Rigondeaux-Agbeko card was the lowest rated in the history of Boxing After Dark main events, yet still (barely) outperformed Showtime's quadruple header from Brooklyn, which was topped by Paul Malignaggi's 12-round points win over Zab Judah.
Showtime's doubleheader on Saturday begins at 9:00PM ET; HBO's telecast goes live at 9:45PM ET.
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