By Jake Donovan
It was an improvement from his last televised appearance, but unbeaten heavyweight Luis Ortiz still falls into the risk-not-worth-reward category as his marketability remains a work in progress.
His March 5 knockout win over Tony Thompson - which aired live on HBO from D.C. Armory in Washington, DC - averaged 740,000 viewers over the course of their heavyweight clash. Ortiz scored three knockdowns before putting Thompson away for good in the 6th round of a non-title fight that peaked at 807,000 viewers.
Strangely, the peak audience fell short of its chief support, along with the highest average point of the telecast (801,000 viewers) coming at the start of the telecast before the opening bout.
Jessie Vargas became a two-division titlist after a 9th round knockout of Sadam Ali in their vacant welterweight title fight. The bout averaged 726,000 viewers, topping out at 848,000 viewers.
Vargas and Ali both fought just once in 2015. Ali outpointed Francisco Santana in a favorably-placed co-feature to Wladimir Klitschko's 12-round win over Jennings in his first stateside fight in seven years, with the event drawing more than 1.7 million viewers. Ali-Santana pulled in just over 1 million viewers.
Two months later, Vargas left behind a run as a super lightweight titlist in pursuit of a welterweight strap. His quest fell short in a loss to Timothy Bradley Jr., although he was denied the closing seconds of the bout when referee Pat Russell mistook the 10-second warning for the final bell.
Their HBO-televised headliner last June drew 1.121 million viewers, topping a telecast that featured the network's 1,000th fight to have aired live, with Oscar Valdez in a 10-round win over Ruben Tamayo.
Ortiz (25-0, 22KOs) made a splash in his HBO-televised debut last December, violently knocking out perennial Top 10 contender Bryant Jennings in seven rounds. Their interim title fight didn't play to much of a home viewing audience, however, pulling in an average of 616,000 viewers.
Saturday's showing marked more than a 20% improvement in terms of ratings, but his public appeal still lags considerably behind his standing as one of the best heavyweights in the world. His most recent ring appearance was preceded by a struggle on the part of Golden Boy Promotions to find a willing participant - in part due to the risk that comes in facing the dangerous southpaw. as well as the less-than-inspiring payday that came with the assignment.
Thompson eventually answered the call, jumping at the opportunity to fight in his hometown. It was his first fight back on HBO since an 11th round knockout loss to Wladimir Klitschko in July '08.
Ortiz and Golden Boy hope to continue to build his appeal, but remains more ambitious than realistic. Golden Boy VP Eric Gomez publicly stated the company's intention to place him on the undercard of the May 7 Pay-Per-View telecast topped by Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez in a catchweight bout with Amir Khan.
However, such placement is dependent on the ability to come to terms with mandatory contender Alexander Ustinov. The fight has been ordered by the World Boxing Association (WBA), which recognizes Ortiz as its interim heavyweight titlist and has the bout as part of its heavyweight tournament.
Golden Boy's challenge is enticing Ustinov's side enough to bring the fight to the United States. The once-beaten heavyweight is co-promoted by Frank Warren and Vlad Hrunov, both of whom have every intention of maximizing their fighter's payday whether through negotiations or an ordered purse bid.
All ratings data provided by Nielsen Media Research.
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox