By Jake Donovan
The best night of Caleb Plant’s boxing career just so happened to be the best ever to date for hosting network FS1 as well.
Sunday’s edition of Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) on FS1 drew a hefty average of 761,000 viewers over the course of the 2 ½ hour telecast, with its growing audience peaking at 986,000 viewers at the 10:00pm (ET) hour. The pull is the highest ever network average for any boxing telecast on FS1, according to Nielsen Media Research.
The show’s headliner saw the unbeaten Plant (18-0, 10KOs) win his first major title as a pro, unseating Jose Uzcategui (28-3, 23KOs) in their thrilling 12-round battle. Knockdowns in rounds two and four highlighted a strong early start for the Tennessee native, who fended off a late surge from the exiting champion to prevail by a well-earned unanimous decision.
Their bout played to a robust 917,000 viewers, marking the best performance for any single boxing match to appear on Fox Sports’ regional cable network. The telecast’s overall average for the night more than doubled any previous edition of PBC on FS1.
“We’re very excited and happy about the rating for the Uzcategui-Plant show on FS1 on Sunday night,’’ said Tim Smith, VP of Communications for Haymon Boxing. “That show was strong and had all the ingredients of what makes boxing entertaining for sports fans – action, drama, edge of the seat intrigue, and a star turn for Caleb Plant.
With the loss, Uzcategui’s 10-month title reign ended without registering a single successful defense. The 28-year old from Mexico by way of Bolivia won the interim strap with a stoppage win over Andre Dirrell last March, avenging a controversial DQ loss to the Flint, Mich. native the previous May.
His lone fight between his title win and the loss to Plant came in a non-title victory over Ezequil Maderna last September. The bout came as a consolation prize for waiting out a postponement due to Plant undergoing surgery to repair a broken left hand he suffered during training ahead of their originally scheduled date last summer
Sunday’s show marked the second FS1 headliner for Uzcategui, whose lone other network appearance came in Oct. ’15. That night had a far more favorable ending for the hard-hitting super middleweight, who derailed second-generation boxer Julius Jackson in the 2nd round of their title eliminator.
For Plant, it was his first network headliner after several supporting appearances on past PBC shows spanning FS1, Fox, NBC Sports and Showtime.
The event marked the debut of the rebranded PBC on FS1 series since a new deal was reached between PBC and Fox Sports last fall.
Whereas their previous arrangement came through a three-year time-buy agreement, each telecast on FS1 and free-to-air Fox comes with a healthy license free, resulting in a significant increase in relevant boxing content across all platforms.
Pre-fight promotion for Sunday’s telecast included key ad placements, with several impressions running during Fox’s coverage of the NFL Wild Card and divisional playoffs. Plant-Uzcategui was also prominently featured through shoulder programming on FS1, including its own 30-minute special as part of the network’s “PBC Face-to-Face” series.
It showed in the final numbers, with a regional cable network producing far superior numbers to the 2018 network averages of longtime inudstry powerhouse Showtime (481,000 viewers) and the now-defunct HBO boxing model (614,000 viewers).
The rebranded series comes with the support of in-network promotion during the NFL playoffs—traditionally the highest-rated programming of the year, including more than 38 million viewers tuning in for the New Orleans Saints’ divisional round win over defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, which aired Sunday afternoon live on Fox.
Still, that rating tends to greater benefit trailing network programming, such as the primetime airing of The Simpsons, which drew more than 10 million viewers. For the PBC on FS1 series to perform so well while on a night traditionally owned by primetime broadcast networks speaks volumes of the new approach.
“It’s great for boxing, the PBC boxers and the fans,” points out Smith. “With the support of our partners at FOX Sports, it's a foundation we will continue to build on.’’
Next up for the PBC on Fox family is a January 26 show live on the terrestrial network. Headlining the show, Keith Thurman (28-0, 22KOs) returns from a near two-year absence to defend his version of the welterweight title versus veteran contender Josesito Lopez. An indication of building support for that event can be found in the response to the "PBC Countdown" special, which aired Saturday and drew 501,000 viewers.
The next edition of PBC on FS1 will come February 23, when Anthony Dirrell and Avni Yildirim vie for a different version of the super middleweight title. The show will take place in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with local favorite and aspiring welterweight contender Jamal James appearing in the co-feature.
While the NFL playoffs and Super Bowl will be long wrapped up by then, the forthcoming February 23 telecast will undoubtedly enjoy a promotional push from two preceding PBC on Fox shows along with the network’s coverage of NCAA college basketball.