By Jake Donovan
Sergey Kovalev has been a consistently solid draw for HBO Boxing in 2014. Bernard Hopkins has always served as a ratings magnet for the network.
Naturally, their three-belt light heavyweight unification bout on November 8 in Atlantic City proved to be a smash hit with home viewers. A peak average of 1.328 million viewers tuned in for what became a tour-de-force performance by Kovalev, dropping the legendary Hopkins in the opening round en route to a dominant 12-round shutout to earn accolades as the best light heavyweight on the planet.
The telecast peaked at 1.397 home viewers. Both numbers are good for the second highest rated bout of 2014, ranking just behind Julio Cesar Chavez Jr's rematch win over Bryan Vera in March.
All data was provided by Nielsen Media Research.
Kovalev (26-0-1, 23KOs) has emerged as a bonafide boxing star from the moment he entered the title picture. The Russian knockout artist has appeared before HBO viewers five times in the span of just 15 months, dating back to his 4th round knockout win over Nathan Cleverly last August.
The first two network appearances for the unbeaten light heavyweight came in supporting capacity. His win over Cleverly in Wales was the opening leg of a split-site tripleheader that also included Darren Barker and Kiko Martinez in separate title winning efforts in Atlantic City.
Three months later, Kovalev traveled nord des lignes to Canada, knocking out Ismayl Sillah in two rounds in a bout viewed by 1.25 million viewers, his highest TV rating to date. The bout served as the chief support to lineal light heavyweight king Adonis Stevenson’s 6th round stoppage of Tony Bellew, a card designed to build towards a head-on collision.
With that plan came Kovalev’s first headliner this past March, matched soft against unbeaten but unheralded Cedric Agnew. The matchup became just a showcase after Stevenson signed with adviser Al Haymon and jumped ship from HBO to Showtime, thus killing any chance of a showdown with Kovalev, who’d just signed an exclusive deal with HBO.
Fans still made the most of the televised appearance, averaging just over 1 million viewers. Ratings slightly dipped for his most recent fight prior to last Saturday, knocking out Blake Caparello in two rounds, in a fight that drew a peak average of 990,000 viewers.
The fight with Caparello carried a ‘more of the same’ feel as Kovalev’s mismatch with Agnew, once again facing a challenger whose unbeaten record was the result of a thin résumé. The fight received a much-needed boost, however, when Hopkins (55-7-2, 32KOs) announced his intention to return to HBO following a two-fight stint with Showtime.
Hopkins’ decision to face Kovalev on HBO came clear out of the blue, as many believed the 49-year old future Hall of Famer to have been on course for a fall showdown with Stevenson. That fight fell apart for reasons that continue to vary, depending on whom you ask.
Whatever the case, Hopkins was back on HBO for the first time since his light heavyweight title-winning effort over then-unbeaten Tavoris Cloud in March ’13, a bout which drew 1.2 million viewers.
Saturday’s bout is likely his last at the top level, given the manner in which he was dominated by Kovalev and the fact that he’s two months shy of his 50th birthday.
At age 31 and his wife recently giving birth to their baby son, Kovalev is in the prime of his career and his life. Whatever is in store for his in-ring future isn’t immediately clear, but as evidenced by his meteoric rise to the top, fans will continue to tune in.
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. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox