In an anomaly among boxing broadcasts, ESPN drew its peak audience Saturday night during the first of three fights it televised from Madison Square Garden.
Helped by formidable lead-in programming, ESPN’s Heisman Trophy telecast, the three-bout broadcast headlined by Terence Crawford and Egidjius Kavaliauskas peaked long before the main event began. A peak audience of 1,648,000 watched the early part of the Michael Conlan-Vladimir Nikitin featherweight fight.
An average audience of 1,481,000 viewers watched Crawford’s ninth-round technical knockout of Kavaliauskas in a welterweight title fight later Saturday night. The tripleheader, which lasted nearly three hours, attracted an overall average audience of 1,350,000, the largest average for an ESPN/Top Rank boxing show in 2019.
ESPN’s post-Heisman boxing broadcast last year averaged 1,865,000 viewers.
The peak viewership for the main event that night – lightweight champ Vasiliy Lomachenko’s 12-round, unanimous-decision victory over Jose Pedraza – was just over 2,100,000. That fight averaged 2,013,000 viewers last December 8 from The Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden.
The previous Crawford fight that aired live on ESPN drew a peak audience of 2,800,000 and an average viewership of 2,245,000. The undefeated three-division champion stopped Jose Benavidez Jr. in the 12th round of that October 2018 bout at CHI Health Center in Omaha, Nebraska, Crawford’s hometown.
Crawford (36-0, 27 KOs) was heavily favored to beat Kavaliauskas, which impacted interest in their mandated match. Lithuania’s Kavaliauskas (21-1-1, 17 KOs) made the contest compelling, though, by landing more punches against Crawford than any previous opponent, according to CompuBox.
A right hand by Kavaliauskas caught Crawford flush and made him hold Kavaliauskas around the waist just before the midway mark of the third round. Crawford contended afterward that he wasn’t hurt by that shot and that he went to the canvas due to their subsequent entanglement.
Referee Ricky Gonzalez didn’t rule it a knockdown.
Crawford came back to batter Kavaliauskas, who was the mandatory challenger for Crawford’s WBO welterweight title. He knocked him down once in the seventh round and twice in the ninth, when Gonzalez stopped their scheduled 12-round, 147-pound championship match.
In the co-featured fight just before Crawford defeated Kavaliauskas, hard-hitting lightweight Teofimo Lopez stopped Richard Commey in the second round of what was supposed to be the toughest fight of Lopez’s three-year pro career. Brooklyn’s Lopez (15-0, 12 KOs) won the IBF 135-pound crown from Ghana’s Commey (29-3, 26 KOs), who hadn’t been knocked out before Lopez beat him.
In the opener of ESPN’s telecast, Northern Ireland’s Conlan (13-0, 7 KOs) avenged his infamous Olympic loss to Russia’s Nikitin (3-1) by out-boxing him in their 10-round, 126-pound bout. Conlan won a unanimous decision three years after Nikitin out-pointed him in a bantamweight quarterfinal Conlan clearly deserved to win at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.