By Jake Donovan
The highly anticipated rematch between Carl Froch and George Groves fared incredibly well at the box-office, produced a highlight reel ending and – for U.S. cable network HBO – proved to be a worthy Saturday matinee feature.
The May 31 headliner at Wembley Stadium in London proved to be a successful venture in an otherwise risky time slot for HBO, generating an average of 700,000 viewers over the course of their thrilling super middleweight title fight.
Froch (33-2, 24KO) added to his growing stature as boxing’s perennial tough guy, overcoming an early rally to knock Groves out cold in the 8th round of their instant classic.
The bout topped out at 830,000 viewers and overall served as a 42% increase from Froch’s network appearance this time one year ago. His rematch with Mikkel Kessler – in which Froch avenged a 2010 defeat to score a unanimous decision last May – was one of the best fights of 2013, but only playing to an audience of 493,000 viewers on this side of the Atlantic.
Demand for the rematch came the moment Froch was hailed a stoppage winner over Groves in their controversial first fight last November. Groves scored an early knockdown and was ahead on all three scorecards through eight rounds before getting rocked in round nine. Froch may or may not have been on his way to a dramatic stoppage, but referee Howard John Foster denied the defending unified champ a spectacular finish – or Groves the opportunity to recover – by jumping in and ordering what many deemed was a horribly premature stoppage.
The controversy made for great theatre in the buildup to the rematch. Wembley Stadium was packed to the gills, with 80,000 tickets sold and forever solidifying Froch’s status as a superstar in England.
In the televised lead-in, Nonito Donaire captured a belt in his fourth weight class, dethroning featherweight titlist Simpiwe Vetyeka via four-round technical unanimous decision. The bout took place earlier in the day in Macau and aired via same-day tape delay on HBO.
The delay allowed for the developing storyline of the fight’s own controversial ending. Donaire was cut in the opening round from what was ruled a headbutt, fighting through the blood and repeat fouls to floor Vetyeka in round four.
Just as the action was intensifying, the fight was stopped on the belief that Donaire’s swollen shut left eye was deemed too severe to continue. The ruling was made at the end of round four, though referee Luis Pabon – who mishandled the entire fight – ordered the bell to ring to start round five, thus having the round scored and making the fight “official.”
Donaire was up on all three scorecards at the time the bout was stopped, though hardly coming all the way back from his disastrous 2013 campaign which saw him deal a boxing lesson by Guillermo Rigondeaux in April and struggle mightily with past knockout victim Vic Darchinyan last September.
The drama stemming from Macau didn’t do very much to draw viewers to the tube for the 4PM ET start time of the split-site doubleheader. Hearing about it was good enough, or perhaps enough boxing fans woke up early to watch live via stream.
Whatever the case, the featherweight bout played to an average of 433,000 viewers. It marked the first time HBO’s flagship network aired a same-day offering of a fight from Macau, with past events – dating back to Top Rank’s inaugural show at the Venetian Macao in April ’13 - having always been showcased on its sister network, HBO2.
All data was obtained from Nielsen Media Research.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as the Records Keeper for the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and a member of Boxing Writers Association of America.