You may not like Adrien Broner's attitude. You may despise his cockiness. But one thing is certain: When Broner fights, you watch.
Broner's split decision victory over Paulie Malignaggi in their WBA welterweight title fight from the Barclays Center in New York drew a peak of 1.3 million viewers during the broadcast on Showtime.
That, combined with the 1.4 million he drew for a one-sided win over Gavin Rees in a lightweight title fight on HBO in February, gives Broner the two most-watched boxing matches of the year on cable television in the U.S. Only the heavyweight fight between Tyson Fury and Steve Cunningham in April, which averaged 1.2 million viewers and peaked at 1.7 million on NBC, did a higher number.
Since Showtime began tracking individual fights in 2009, Broner-Malignaggi is its second highest-rated bout, trailing only Austin Trout's victory over Miguel Cotto in December. Saturday's card from Brooklyn, that also featured Sakio Bika defeated Marco Antonio Periban and Seth Mitchell defeating Johnathon Banks, averaged 890,000 viewers. That is the second-highest since 2004, also trailing only the Trout-Cotto card, since Nielsen began tracking Showtime separately.
With the Floyd Mayweather-Canelo Alvarez pay-per-view upcoming that has at least an outside shot to break the all-time PPV mark, it's a good time to work for Showtime.
Broner brought the fans out a second time, even though there was a lot of negativity surrounding him for his crass behavior in the build-up to the Malignaggi fight.
Stephen Espinoza, the executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports, said Broner is following the path that Mayweather, his idol, took to TV stardom.
"To put it simply, he makes a lot of noise and draws a lot of attention," Espinoza said. "He rubs some people the wrong way, but people react to him. It's similar to Mayweather in that you either like him and watch to watch him, or you dislike him and want to see him lose. Either way, they're tuning in."
Espinoza has led a ratings revival at Showtime since he was hired Nov. 14, 2011, to replace Ken Hershman. The four biggest audiences for a single bout (Cotto-Trout, 1.4 million; Broner-Malignaggi, 1.3 million; Canelo-Trout 1.2 million and Canelo-Josesit Lopez 1.04 million) in Showtime history have come in the last 10 months with Espinoza in the driver's seat.
And three of Showtime's four most-viewed cards have come in the last seven months.
The key, Espinoza said, is the kind of fights he buys and trying to develop stars. He's made a concerted effort to buy the kind of bout that will bring the fans out of their seats. He opened Saturday's show with the Bika-Periban match, which got very little attention going in. While the skill level in the bout wasn't high, it was a brutally entertaining slugfest.
There are always a place for those kinds of fights, he said.
"We've had some phenomenal fights going on since last fall, but we're really on a run since that Canelo fight [against Trout on April 20]," he said.
Showtime has also had Alvarez on its air three times in the last year, as well as Broner twice and Cotto once. They're among the most popular fighters in the sport.
Young fighters such as Broner, who is 23, often look to leap quickly into pay-per-view, believing it is a gold mine. But far more pay-per-view bouts fail than succeed, with Mayweather being a notable exception.
Broner hasn't brought up shifting to pay-per-view to Espinoza and Espinoza said he wants to keep Broner on Showtime for as long as possible to deliver that value to his subscribers.
It's a part of the strategy to broadcast stars and compelling matches.
"What our mission is, is simple," Espinoza said. "If people pay their $70 to buy a pay-per-view or they pay their $50 or $100 or $150 to buy a ticket to a live event, it's incumbent on all of us, promoters, networks, everybody in the business, to do everything possible to make sure those people go home satisfied or that when they turn off the TV at night, they're happy with the experience.
"That's what is going to make them come back, even when they don't know the fighters."