By Jake Donovan
Sergey Kovalev began his 2016 campaign in the same manner in which he kicked off 2015 – with a stoppage win over Jean Pascal on January 30 at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Canada. The event fittingly produced nearly identical ratings results, as the sequel slightly outperformed the original in home viewership.
An average of 1.179 million viewers tuned in for Kovalev’s one-sided 7th round beatdown of Pascal in a three-belt light heavyweight fight that topped the 2016 season premiere of HBO World Championship Boxing. The event peaked at 1.269 million viewers.
Opening the telecast, Dmitry Mikhaylenko pitched a 10-round shutout over Karim Mayfield, a late replacement for an injured Ray Robinson. The largely forgettable welterweight affair averaged 701,000 viewers, peaking at 835,000 viewers.
The fight was deemed an unnecessary mismatch going in, but didn’t deter viewers from tuning in. The ratings were a slight improvement from their first meet last March, in which 1.152 million viewers watched Kovalev stop Pascal in the 8th round of a marginally competitive contest.
Setting up the rematch – aside from the event being forced on viewers - was a lesser received doubleheader last July. Kovalev wiped out overmatched mandatory challenger Nadjib Mohammedi in three rounds, while Pascal was considered fortunate to have won a 10-round decision over previously unbeaten Yunieski Gonzalez.
Kovalev-Mohammedi averaged just over 1 million viewers, while Pascal-Gonzalez averaged 883,000 viewers. In that sense, both fighters enjoyed an expanded audience for their head-on collision.
To date, Kovalev's best performing telecast on HBO remains his signature career win - a 12-round shutout over Bernard Hopkins in their three-belt unification bout in Nov. '14. The event averaged 1.327 million viewers and peaked at nearly 1.4 million viewers.
He also drew 1.25 million viewers for a 2nd round knockout of Ismayl Sillah in a Nov. '13 clash that served as the co-feature to World light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson's 6th round stoppage of Tony Bellew, which averaged 1.305 million viewers.
That particular event was designed to build towards a Stevenson-Kovalev super fight (relatively speaking) in 2014, only for plans to go miserably south when Stevenson signed with adviser Al Haymon and announced his plans to fight on cable rival Showtime.
The two camps have since spent the past two years finding different reasons for such a fight to not take place. Plans bottomed out in late January, with the two sides differing on a proposal for what would have been a Pay-Per-View headliner had terms been reached.
It didn't prevent Stevenson from grandstanding, charging the ring during Kovalev's post-fight interview with HBO's Max Kellerman. Interestingly (or sadly), the segment convinced viewers to hang around, as the final 15 minutes of the broadcast averaged 1.073 million viewers.
What it didn't produce was the promise of an actual fight happening. Instead, Kovalev will move towards a showdown with Andre Ward (who was ringside and also interviewed earlier in the broadcast) later this year.
Interim plans call for a possible June ring appearance in Russia, his home country but where he hasn't fought since Dec. '11. The night that produced a fatal 7th round knockout of Roman Simakov, who slipped into unconsciousness and was carried out of the ring of the ring on a stretcher. Simakov died three days later.
It remains to be seen if such plans materialize, as Kovaelv was also due to fight in Russia last fall but instead was left with just two fights in a 2015 campaign that never fully capitalized on the momentum that came from his win over Hopkins.
Saturday's show was strategically placed on the weekend before the NFL Super Bowl, a popular weekend for HBO boxing telecasts and the second straight year in which it served as its season premiere.
As Kovalev-Pascal II was an improvement from the first fight as well from Kovalev's previous ring appearance, it marked a 6% decrease from last year's season premiere - another headliner between repeat foes. Brandon Rios battered a listless Mike Alvarado into submission after three rounds of their rubber match, which averaged 1.25 million viewers.
All ratings data provided by Nielsen Media Research.
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox