By Jake Donovan
Whether boxing fans love him, hate him or are just drawn in by the sideshow factor, Adrien Broner has re-emerged as a bonafide draw.
Final ratings data for the April 1 edition of Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) on Spike TV saw a positive - and expected - trend upward, placing Broner's 9th round knockout of Ashley Theohpane as the second-most watched cable TV fight of 2016. The main event - which played to a sold-out crowd at the D.C. Armory in Washington D.C. - boasted a final average of 1.141 million viewers, peaking at 1.3 million viewers, Spike TV spokesperson David Schwarz informed BoxingScene.com on Wednesday.
The telecast average viewership also significantly jumped from 873,000 to 955,000 viewers, with 48 minutes of the broadcast seen by 1 million or more viewers according to Nielsen Media Research.
The adjusted numbers are just shy of the 1.179 million viewership average for Sergey Kovalev's repeat knockout win of Jean Pascal this past January, which aired live on HBO.
Broner (32-2, 24KOs) had already established Spike TV records with the preliminary numbers, with his bout and the telecast as a whole setting viewership records for any boxing event to have aired on the network, including its days as Versus TV.
The ratings and box office results provided a bright spot to an otherwise troubling period for the brash boxer from Cincinnati. The now former-four division champ went into the fight as a fugitive from justice, with two warrants out for his arrest stemming from events that allegedly took place at Madison Bowl in Cincinnati (Broner's hometown) in mid-January.
Word of the warrants first surfaced eight days prior to fight night, with Broner's legal team forced to work out a deal that meant his agreeing to surrender upon return home, terms that convinced the D.C. Boxing & Wrestling Commission to grant him a license for fight night. It also changed the terms of the arrest warrant, which originally allowed for D.C. Metro police to apprehend the boxer at any time, putting the fight in jeopardy.
Spike TV was quick to react to the matter, insisting the April 1 event was always scheduled to proceed, even while declining comment on a "What if" scenario had Broner been arrested and the main event scrapped.
Whatever message comes from negative press producing positive results, the ratings are a strong indication that viewers were not only made aware of the telecast, but intrigued enough to tune in.
The telecast average of 955,000 viewers far surpasses the previous best average for a PBC on Spike event, which came with the inaugural installment last March. Andre Berto topped that edition, rallying to knock out Josesito Lopez in six rounds. The former welterweight champ parlayed the win into a career-best payday - albeit in a losing performance - as the final opponent in the illustrious career of Floyd Mayweather, whose Mayweather Promotions was the lead promoter for the April 1 event.
Fittingly, Broner called out Mayweather during his post-fight interview, hoping to settle their current out-of-the-ring beef in the ring. A lot of things would have to happen for such a bout to materialize - namely, Mayweather coming out of retirement and Broner (32-2, 24KOs) coming out of pending legal trouble.
The brash boxer from Cincinnati was due to make the first defense of his super lightweight (140-pounds) title, but was forced to concede the crown at the scales, coming in bone dry at 140.4 lbs. and unable to shed the excess weight. He was fined 10% of his $1,000,000 purse, with the fine amount split between Theophane and the local commission ($50,000 each).
The instance marked the second time Broner was forced to relinquish a title at the scales, having showed up well over the 130-pound limit for his eventual 5th round knockout of Vicente Escobedo in July '12. The 26-year old also previously held titles at lightweight (voluntarily vacated in favor of a move up in weight) and welterweight. The latter reign was the only one to end with a loss, the first of his career in fact as he suffered a 12-round decision defeat to Marcos Maidana in Dec. '13.
Despite his having to vacate the title at the scales for this bout, the belt was still at stake for Theophane (39-7-1, 11KOs), who made weight but was largely outclassed for much of the night. The stoppage was regarded as premature, with the hard-luck Brit - who now trains out of Mayweather's gym in Las Vegas - trying to draw attention to a low blow that went undetected by referee Luis Pabon, who mistook the boxer's body language was a sign of surrender in stopping the fight.
Bright spots on the telecast came in the preceding bouts, namely the televised co-feature. Robert Easter Jr. - a stablemate and protege of Broner - enjoyed a massive breakout performance with a 5th round knockout of former 130 lb. titlst Algenis Mendez, officially advancing from prospect to legitimate Top 10 contender. Opening the telecast, Gervonta Davis - the 21-year old stud former amateur standout who was discovered by Broner but is now promoted by Mayweather - remained unbeaten with a one-sided stoppage of veteran Guillermo Avila.
In terms of Broner-Theophane's main event rating, it is a return to the results he regularly turned in on HBO, Showtime and NBC as one of the sport's bigger televised draws. The foreseeable future, however, will have all eyes on his legal status. His days as a fugitive came to a close on Monday, when he surrendered to the Hamilton County Sherriff's department on charges of felony assault and aggravated robbery.
Broner posted bail and entered a plea of 'Not 'Guilty' on Tuesday. His next court date has been set for April 14, at which time it will be declared whether enough evidence exists to proceed to trial or if a lack of evidence will result in charges being dropped.
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com, Twitter: @JakeNDaBox