By Jake Donovan
Adonis Stevenson was able to fend off a late rally from Andrzej Fonfara to retain his World light heavyweight championship on May 24 in Canada.
What the 36-year old southpaw failed to retain, however, was the level of viewership that helped him rise from cult favorite to box office attraction.
The aforementioned light heavyweight championship managed to generate an average 672,000 viewers – according to Nielsen Media Research - over the course of their 12-round main event, which aired live on SHOWTIME. The bout topped out at 800,000 viewers, a respectable number on its own but paling in comparison to the past numbers produced by the defending champion.
The bout turned out to be far more competitive than was expected to be the case. Stevenson scored two knockdowns within the first five rounds, but injured his hand early on and seemingly gassed towards the second half of the bout. Fonfara rallied hard, scoring a surprise 9th round knockdown to create instant drama, but Stevenson was able to recover and preserve his lead to remain champion.
Stevenson generated a lot of buzz – and not for any of the right reasons – when announcing his allegiance with adviser Al Haymon earlier this year. The move led to his joining the SHOWTIME family after having appeared three straight times on rival network HBO.
Ratings for all of Stevenson’s bouts on HBO had progressively increased, beginning with more than 1 million viewers tuning in for his one-punch 1st round knockout of Chad Dawson last June to win the title. His highest ratings pull came last November, generating well over 1.3 million viewers for his 6th round stoppage of Tony Bellew.
The latter bout was part of a televised doubleheader also featuring unbeaten knockout artist Sergey Kovalev. The two were on a collision course to fight in 2014, or so thought HBO and Main Events, Kovalev’s handlers. Stevenson called an audible, however, when announcing his signing with Haymon and intention to instead face the winner of the April 19 light heavyweight unification bout, in which 49-year old legend Bernard Hopkins soundly outpointed Beibut Shumenov.
Plans are still being mapped out for Stevenson and Hopkins to meet in the future, although there are some hurdles to overcome. Boxing-related issues and politics aside, it’s clear for the moment that fans are waiting for the payoff before tuning in, as less-than-glossy ratings were produced for the two fights intended to build interest towards such a clash.
A silver lining for the May 24 telecast was that it increased in viewership as the night went along. The televised tripleheader opened with Jermell Charlo scoring a 12-round decision over Charlie Ohta, a bout that drew an average of 334,000 viewers – a rating that matched the lack of intensity surrounding their super welterweight title eliminator.
The televised co-feature all-action middleweight knockout artist David Lemieux make his SHOWTIME debut, steamrolling former middleweight title challenger Fernando Guerrero. The bout averaged just shy of 500,000 viewers.
Stevenson’s personal ratings decline also resulted in a near 20% drop from Showtime’s most recent live telecast on its flagship network, when Keith Thurman scored a 3rd round stoppage of Julio Diaz. Their bout drew an average of 835,000 viewers, marking a solid debut for Thurman as a headliner.
Showtime’s next edition of Showtime Championship Boxing comes June 21, featuring the return of former welterweight titlists Robert Guerrero and Devon Alexander in separate bouts. Also on the show, Vasyl Lomachenko faces Gary Russell in a vacant featherweight title fight, which also comes with the storyline of a purse bid forcing Top Rank (Lomachenko) and Golden Boy/Haymon (Russell) to do business together.
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.