By Jake Donovan
Final numbers are still coming in, but the brass at Spike TV and Premier Boxing Champions are pleased with the early returns for their latest collaboration.
The April 1 edition of PBC on Spike TV was the network's first boxing telecast of 2016 and began its year with a bang. The first round of ratings has the telecast sitting an average of 873,000 viewers, a record-high for the PBC on Spike series. The evening's main event - Adrien Broner scoring a 9th round knockout of Ashley Theophane at the D.C. Armory in Washington, DC - averaged 1.013 million viewers, good for the most watched boxing match ever on Spike TV.
Good news was hard to come by throughout a troubling fight week. Not only are these numbers the silver lining long sought, but even better news appears to be on the way.
"We are expecting very strong peak viewership numbers in the coming days," Spike TV media manager David Schwarz told BoxingScene.com. "We experience this with our Bellator (MMA) telecasts. Audiences DVR (digital video record) our Friday night sports. So for a number like this, we are very pleased but will see a specific bump in the next day or two when we receive peak viewership and final numbers."
For now, it was a record-setting night during an otherwise forgettable point in time for Broner. 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 873,000 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. Broner posted bail and is due to return to court on Tuesday, on charges of felony assault and aggravated robbery.
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com, Twitter: @JakeNDaBox