By Jake Donovan
Pay-cable giant Showtime came out swinging to begin its 2015 boxing season, with its January 17 tripleheader topped by Deontay Wilder’s impressive boxing display in dethroning heavyweight titlist Bermane Stiverne over 12 rounds.
The main event—which aired live from MGM Grand in Las Vegas—was a hit with boxing audiences, drawing in 1.24 million viewers for the 2015 season premiere of Showtime Championship Boxing . The fight peaked in 1.34 million viewers.
In fact, all three bouts landed in the Top 20 of the most watched fights on Showtime since 2004, when Nielsen began tracking ratings on Showtime’s flagship station separate from its affiliate networks.
Wilder-Stiverne becomes Showtime’s most watched bout since Austin Trout’s upset win over Miguel Cotto in Dec. ’12, and the fourth-most viewed Showtime fight since 2004. It also recorded the highest rating share of any fight on any network—including HBO—in more than a year, drawing a 3.2 share on the night.
The pair of heavyweights appeared in their first Showtime-televised main event. Wilder has appeared on several past undercards on Showtime’s flagship station—beginning with a 3 rd round knockout of previously unbeaten Kelvin Price in the opening bout of a Dec. ’12 show—as well as its sister network SHO Extreme.
Stiverne had never previously appeared on Showtime, the closest coming on the non-televised undercard of Don King’s first Shobox promotion in March ’07. His lone bout on pay-cable came in his first fight with Chris Arreola, scoring a landslide 12-round decision in their April ’13 heavyweight title eliminator on HBO, which played to only 747,000 homes.
Their rematch came last May with the vacant heavyweight title on the line. Stiverne scored a 6 th round knockout to become the first-ever fighter from Haiti to win a heavyweight belt, in a bout that served as the headliner of a rare Saturday night boxing special on ESPN. The show drew just shy of 1 million viewers on a network available in nearly 100 million homes.
Wilder-Stiverne not only far eclipsed that total, but doing so with Showtime boasting a pay-subscription base of less than 25% of those with access to ESPN, a basic cable network.
Wilder (33-0, 32KOs) entered the bout—and still remains—the last American boxer to have won an Olympic medal, capturing the bronze as a heavyweight in the 2008 Beijing Games. Saturday’s performance allowed the fighting pride of Tuscaloosa, Alabama to become the first American to wear a heavyweight belt in nearly eight years, ending the drought that began with Shannon Briggs conceding his belt to Sultan Ibragimov in June ’07.
Stiverne (24-2-1, 21KOs) became, a feat he accomplished with a rousing 6th round knockout in his rematch with Chris Arreola last May. For his lone defense, Stiverne went about training camp the very wrong way, having to drop a lot of weight in a few weeks, which caused severe dehydration and led to his being hospitalized for two days before being released on Monday.
In the co-feature, Leo Santa Cruz turned away the challenge of a determined but overmatched Jesus Ruiz with an 8th round stoppage in their super bantamweight title fight.
Santa Cruz (29-0-1, 17KOs) racked up the fourth defense of his belt, appearing on Showtime’s flagship station for the first time in more than a year following back-to-back appearances on Pay-Per-View undercards. His latest ring adventure drew 912,000 viewers, his highest rated bout since appearing regularly on Showtime in 2012.
The televised opener was by far the best bout of the evening, with Amir Imam emerging as one to watch in an already loaded 140 lb. division following his 5th round knockout of Fidel Maldonado Jr. (19-3, 16KOs)
Both fighters hit the deck in a wild round three that—in a young 2015—serves as the first true entry for Round of the Year. Imam (16-0, 14KOs) floored Maldonado hard at the end of previous round, but found himself on the deck in the opening moments of the third frame. The unbeaten boxer from Albany, N.Y. dusted himself off and proceeded to send his scrappy foe to the canvas twice more before rounds end, and again in round five to finish him off for good.
The free-swinging affair played to an audience of 811,000 viewers. Both fighters were making their first appearance on Showtime Championship Boxing; Maldonado Jr. had previously appeared on Showtime’s ShoBox series.
All data provided by Nielsen Media Research.
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