Viewership for the first televised, live boxing event in the United States since mid-March was reflective of the largely low level of competition ESPN aired Tuesday night from Las Vegas.
According to Nielsen Media Research figures released Wednesday, Top Rank’s 3½-hour telecast on ESPN was watched by an average of 397,000 viewers. The five-fight show drew a peak audience of 609,000 sometime between 10-10:15 p.m. ET, during the main event, in which Shakur Stevenson knocked out Felix Caraballo in the sixth round at MGM Grand Conference Center.
The 22-year-old Stevenson (14-0, 8 KOs) is the WBO featherweight champion and one of the sport’s top young fighters, but the 2016 Olympic silver medalist was consistently listed as a 100-1 favorite to beat Caraballo. The courageous Caraballo (13-2-2, 9 KOs), a 33-year-old supermarket warehouse worker who was overwhelmed throughout by far the most difficult fight of his career, took the fight on less than four weeks’ notice.
Stevenson spent much of 5½ rounds battering Caraballo, before the skillful southpaw from Newark, New Jersey, drilled the Puerto Rican veteran with a left to the body that sent him to his gloves and knees. A temporarily immobilized Caraballo couldn’t get up, which led to referee Tony Weeks stopping the fight at 1:31 of the sixth round.
Their non-title bout, fought at the junior lightweight limit of 130 pounds, was scheduled for 10 rounds.
ESPN’s telecast, which began at 7 p.m. ET, also included four undercard fights, two of which resulted in first-round knockouts. Those quick conclusions and later a third-round knockout left ESPN’s broadcasters to fill plenty of airtime between bouts because the show was supposed to account for a four-hour programming block.
Top Rank and ESPN had to kill additional time due to the late cancelation of a 10-round women’s bout between Mikaela Mayer (12-0, 5 KOs) and Helen Joseph (17-4-2, 10 KOs). That junior lightweight fight, which was supposed to air immediately before the Stevenson-Caraballo bout, was scratched from the card Sunday because Mayer, a 2016 U.S. Olympian, tested positive for COVID-19.
Nevertheless, industry insiders believed viewership would be higher for boxing’s first televised, live event since March 13, when Showtime broadcast bouts from Hinckley, Minnesota. Tuesday has not been a traditional night to televise boxing, though, since USA Network canceled its long-running “Tuesday Night Fights” series in 1998.
ESPN will air another Top Rank card Thursday night from MGM Grand Conference Center.
The main event – Jessie Magdaleno (27-1, 18 KOs) against Yenifel Vicente (36-4-2, 28 KOs, 1 NC) in a 10-round junior lightweight fight – should be much more competitive than Stevenson-Caraballo. That telecast will begin at 8 p.m. ET because that card was cut down to four fights Wednesday when an undercard fighter came in way overweight.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.