By Keith Idec
Not since Deontay Wilder won the WBC heavyweight title from Bermane Stiverne have as many viewers watched a boxing match on Showtime as they did Saturday night.
According to ratings released Tuesday by Nielsen Media Research, Wilder’s compelling comeback victory over Luis Ortiz drew a peak audience of 1.2 million viewers and averaged 1.1 viewers. That was Showtime’s largest viewership since Wilder’s unanimous-decision defeat of Stiverne attracted a peak audience of 1.34 million viewers and an average viewership of 1.24 million in January 2015.
Wilder’s previous fight on Showtime – a three-knockdown, first-round destruction of Stiverne in their rematch November 4 – drew lower ratings than their first fight (peak: 887,000 viewers; average: 824,000).
Before Wilder-Ortiz, Showtime’s highest-rated fight since the first Wilder-Stiverne bout was Mikey Garcia-Adrien Broner. Garcia’s 12-round, unanimous-decision win against Broner peaked at 937,000 viewers and averaged 881,000 on July 29.
Those that tuned in to see how Wilder would respond to the toughest test of his nine-year pro career were rewarded with some dramatic moments following a slow start to Wilder-Ortiz at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The 6-feet-7 Wilder dropped Ortiz in the fifth round, but the resilient Cuban contender came back to hurt Wilder late in the seventh round.
Ortiz drilled Wilder with several power punches during the final 43 seconds of the seventh round, but Wilder was able to hold and move his way to the end of that three-minute period. Questions about Wilder’s chin were answered during that shaky sequence, from which he bounced back to hurt Ortiz with a right hand near the end of the ninth round.
Wilder (40-0, 39 KOs) then knocked down Ortiz (28-1, 24 KOs, 2 NC) twice more in the 10th round. Referee David Fields stopped the fight at 2:05 of the 10th, once Ortiz went down to his gloves and knees from Wilder’s crushing right uppercut.
The Wilder-Ortiz main event might’ve drawn even higher ratings had it not overlapped with HBO’s doubleheader Saturday night.
Wilder-Ortiz began at 10:44 p.m. ET, when HBO’s co-featured fight, Dmitry Bivol-Sullivan Barrera, was between the seventh and eighth rounds. Kyrgyzstan’s Bivol (13-0, 11 KOs) knocked out Cuba’s Barrera (21-2, 14 KOs) in the 12th round to retain his WBA light heavyweight title in The Theater at Madison Square Garden.
HBO’s main event, Sergey Kovalev-Igor Mikhalkin, began at 11:25 p.m. ET, about two minutes after the Wilder-Ortiz fight ended. Kovalev (32-2-1, 28 KOs) stopped Mikhalkin (21-2, 9 KOs), a former amateur teammate in Russia, in the seventh round to defend his WBO light heavyweight title.
The peak viewership for Kovalev-Mikhalkin was 674,000 and it drew an average audience of 599,000. Ratings were slightly lower for Bivol-Barrera (peak: 570,000; average: 512,000).
The co-feature of Showtime’s doubleheader Saturday night, Jose Uzcategai-Andre Dirrell, peaked at 807,000 viewers. An average audience of 673,000 watched that fight.
Venezuela’s Uzcategai (27-2, 23 KOs) battered and bloodied Dirrell (26-3, 16 KOs) before the Flint, Michigan, native’s trainer, Virgil Hunter, and cut man, Jacob “Stitch” Duran, told referee Ricky Gonzalez to stop their one-sided fight following the eighth round. Uzcategui won the IBF interim super middleweight title from Dirrell in their rematch.
The start of the Uzcategui-Dirrell battle was delayed roughly 20 minutes because the New York State Athletic Commission had to examine the discolored urine sample Uzacategai submitted before the fight to make sure it wasn’t caused by blood. Once a doctor determined Uzcategai’s urine was discolored due to vitamins he was taking, the fight was cleared to start.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.