By Keith Idec
The Nielsen numbers reflected just how much interest there was in the controversial conclusion to the Andre Ward-Sergey Kovalev rematch.
According to ratings released Wednesday morning by Nielsen Media Research, HBO’s replay of Ward-Kovalev 2 on Saturday night drew a peak viewership of 947,000 during the eighth and final round. The average audience for the replay was 752,000.
Ward won their light heavyweight championship rematch by eighth-round technical knockout June 17 in Las Vegas, but its unusual conclusion caused more post-fight friction. The undefeated Ward withstood a second-round knockdown to win their first fight by unanimous decision (114-113 on all three scorecards), but the result of that November 19 fight in Las Vegas generated great debate among boxing fans, media and the fighters themselves.
The replay of their first fight drew an average audience of 834,000. That replay aired immediately before the live telecast of WBO super featherweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko’s technical knockout of Nicholas Walters on November 26 from Las Vegas.
The Ward-Kovalev rematch replay was not packaged with the telecast of a live fight Saturday night.
The rebroadcast of the Ward-Kovalev rematch also peaked at a higher rating than HBO’s same-day replay of Anthony Joshua’s 11th-round stoppage of Wladimir Klitschko in their thrilling heavyweight title fight April 29. Joshua-Klitschko, which drew a crowd of roughly 90,000 to London’s Wembley Stadium, is considered one of the top candidates for “Fight of the Year” thus far.
The Joshua-Klitschko replay was watched by a peak audience of 890,000 and averaged 738,000 viewers. Showtime aired the Joshua-Klitschko fight live April 29.
In Ward-Kovalev 2, referee Tony Weeks stopped their fight at 2:29 of the eighth round after Ward landed three straight body blows below Kovalev’s belt line. Replays clearly showed Ward’s last punch landed directly to Kovalev’s groin, which left the former champion sitting on the ropes.
Weeks could’ve called that a knockdown because the ropes held up Russia’s Kovalev (30-2-1, 26 KOs), which would’ve afforded him a small amount of time to recover. Weeks also could’ve given Kovalev five full minutes to recover and warned Ward for that low blow.
A little more than a minute earlier, however, Ward drilled Kovalev with a right hand to the jaw. That punishing punch, which landed with 1:14 to go in the eighth round, left Kovalev holding and trying to get away from an attacking Ward (32-0, 16 KOs). The IBF/WBA/WBO light heavyweight champion seemed to be separating himself from Kovalev following 19 extremely competitive rounds over the course of two bouts, but the odd ending denied Ward the conclusive victory he appeared on his way to achieving.
The Ward-Kovalev rematch reportedly drew about 130,000 pay-per-view buys June 17. Their first fight produced approximately 165,000 buys.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.