LAS VEGAS — On Saturday, hours before Vasiliy Lomachenko and Teofimo Lopez made their way to the ring to battle for the undisputed lightweight title at the MGM Grand Conference Center, Top Rank president Todd duBoef asked a reporter how many viewers he thought the fight on ESPN might attract.
DuBoef almost choked when the reporter quickly responded by saying 3 million. He said he would be happy with a significantly smaller number, particularly considering that the fight would be against Game 7 of the American League Championship Series between Tampa Bay and Houston as well as the Alabama-Georgia college football game.
But the boxing match figured to draw a good audience because it was one of the few cards that had great significance; it matched two elite fighters, both of whom were widely regarded as among the best in the world; Lopez is a compelling personality with a great back story; and ESPN promoted the show as if it were a pay-per-view.
The fans turned out in force. According to the quarterly ratings, which measures the average audience every 15 minutes, Lopez’s brilliant victory had a peak audience of 2.898 million. That means it is almost certain that it exceeded 3 million viewers for at least a minute, though those numbers aren’t yet available.
The entire six-hour block averaged 1.5 million, including the early preliminaries, which usually rate very poorly. The main card, which began at 10 p.m. ET, averaged over 2 million.
Boxing people celebrated the ratings, but it should be seen as a start, not as a finish. What this proved was that when you give fans a great product they don’t have to pay for and promote and market it well, they will watch in large numbers.
What Top Rank and ESPN need to do is to use the momentum to promote upcoming shows. Lomachenko was ranked No. 1 pound-for-pound by many going into that fight. Two other contenders for that mythical honor, Naoya Inoue and Terence Crawford, are fighting on ESPN in the next several weeks.
That means that four of Yahoo Sports’ latest Top 10 pound-for-pound fighters— No. 2 Crawford, No. 4 Inoue, No. 5 Lopez and No. 7 Lomachenko — will appear on ESPN within a month’s span.
That story needs to be delivered to the fans aggressively, or this will all be for naught. Inoue fights Jason Moloney on Oct. 31 for the IBF-WBA bantamweight title. Crawford will defend his WBO welterweight title on Nov. 14 against Kell Brook.
Berlanga does his thing
If there was one theme that was discussed about Edgar Berlanga’s fight against Lanell Bellows on Saturday on the Lomachenko-Lopez undercard, it was that it would not be a first-round knockout.
Berlanga entered the fight with a 14-0 record and 14 first-round knockouts. The veteran Bellows was supposed to be the guy who could push him and make him go rounds.
But a jab in the early seconds of the fight cut Bellows and Berlanga said he noticed fear.
“I saw with the first shot that I cut him open and the look in his eyes, he didn’t want to be in there,” Berlanga said. “From the beginning, once I got in the ring, I looked in his eyes and he didn’t want to be in there. So I had to get him out.”
There were some who complained that the stoppage was early, but notably, neither Bellows nor his corner complained. When the fight ended, Berlanga raced to the ropes and shouted to no one in particular, “I’m a [expletive] monster.”
He has every bit the look of a monster, but he has to do it against someone who will fight back. It’s tough to judge prospects when they’re in the ring for so little time against B-, C- and worse-level opposition.
Berlanga’s conditioning can be called into account, but he’s clearly got pop and he throws with speed as well as bad intentions. These eyes see the real deal, but we won’t know until he’s in there with a quality opponent.
Julie Lederman is, and has long been, one of boxing’s finest judges. Andre Ward is a multi-division world champion and has perhaps the sharpest boxing mind on the planet. Yet they sat in the same arena and watched the same fight and saw vastly different things.
Lederman scored the bout 119-109, giving Lopez every round but the 11th. Ward, calling the bout for ESPN, had it 114-114. He gave Lomachenko the second and then the seventh through the 11th.
Trainer Teofimo Lopez Sr. said he thought Lederman’s card was the best, while Lomachenko said on ESPN he felt he won, though he clearly didn’t say it with a lot of conviction.
And in a bizarre scene while waiting for the post-fight news conference to begin, Lopez manager David McWater shouted angrily at a reporter from The Athletic who was questioning Bob Bennett of the Nevada Athletic Commission about the judging. A Top Rank publicist got between the reporter and manager and urged the manager to relax.
It’s almost incomprehensible that a manager whose fighter has just won the fight going away would get into it with a reporter over the scoring, but this is 2020, so bizarro world is the new norm.
Controversy in the U.K.
Miguel Vazquez appeared to outbox Lewis Ritson in a bout Saturday in Peterborough, England, but Ritson won a split decision. Judge Marcus McDonnell correctly had it for Vazquez, 116-113.
Terry O’Connor had it 117-111 and Michael Alexander had it 115-113 for Ritson. The 117-111 was way out of line and is as bad as Adalaide Byrd’s 10-2 card favoring Canelo Alvarez over Gennadiy Golovkin in 2017 or Eugenia Williams’ 115-113 card favoring Evander Holyfield over Lennox Lewis in 1999.
The controversy heightened, though, when a photo was published which some interpreted as showing O’Connor looking at his phone during the fight. It was hardly clear that it was a phone and it could have been his scorecards, but the matter deserves more examination.
If it were a phone, O’Connor should be permanently banned from judging and closely investigated for fraud. But it’s unfair to leap to conclusions until a thorough review is complete.
He said it
“I’ll take Josh Taylor in the morning and I’ll have Jose Ramirez at night.” — Teofimo Lopez, talking after his win over Vasiliy Lomachenko, about fighting the two men who hold the 140-pound titles.
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