As shown once again on Friday night, Artur Beterbiev’s stiffest competition continues to come in the form of opposing broadcasts.
The unbeaten light heavyweight extended his perfect knockout-to-win run on Friday, the latest effort coming at the highest level as he claimed the World (lineal) light heavyweight championship with a 10th round stoppage of Oleksandr Gvozdyk (17-1, 14KOs). The battle of unbeaten light heavyweight title claimants headlined a live ESPN telecast, which drew an average of 635,000 viewers according to Nielsen Media Research.
Portions of the 114-minute live telecast ran head-to-head with the back end of FS1’s live coverage and post-game wrap of Game 5 of the Major League Baseball American League championship series between the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees, which topped the sports night with more than 5.6 million viewers watching the Yankees extend the series one more night.
Also not at all helping the broadcast was the delayed start time on ESPN’s linear network. The show was due to begin at 10:00pm ET, but had to spill over to sister outlet ESPNews due to live coverage of a college football game between Pittsburgh and Syracuse running long.
As a result, the evening’s chief support—which saw Kudratillo Abdukakhorov (17-0, 9KOs) post a technical decision win over former welterweight titlist Luis Collazo to preserve his own place in line for a shot at a 147-pound title—was carried on sister outlet ESPNews for the first six rounds before picking back up on ESPN in round seven.
The entirety of the main event aired in full on ESPN, though failing to gain traction despite the high profile matchup and the competitive nature of the championship bout itself.
If there are ratings wins to be found for Top Rank and ESPN, it’s in the show boasting a 35% increase from the network’s previous live showing on Aug. 17, which posted a near-series low average of 471,000 viewers. It’s also a 32% improvement from the last ESPN show headlined by Beterbiev (15-0, 15KOs), as the two-time Olympian from Russia—who now lives and trains in Montreal, Canada—topped a May 4 card which averaged 480,000 live in primetime, while also going head to head with the NBA Playoffs and the DAZN-streamed middleweight championship bout between Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and Daniel Jacobs.
The first career loss for the 32-year old Gvozdyk saw a slight decline from his previous network appearance. The 2012 Olympic Bronze medalist from Ukraine drew an average of 655,000 viewers for a March 31 ESPN main event where he scored a 5th round injury stoppage of Doudou Ngumbu for the lone successful defense of his light heavyweight crown.
Friday’s viewership fell just short of network’s average of 647,500 viewers per boxing telecast in 12 previous shows in 2019. The platform has made a strong push to air much of its content on ESPN+, including a show this coming Saturday in Reno, Nevada. The series returns to ESPN prime on Nov. 2, as Miguel Berchelt defends his 130-pound belt versus former titlist Jason Sosa live from Carson, California.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox