UFC Fight Night: Pettis vs. Moreno did surprisingly well in terms of television viewership despite not having much name value on the card.
Fighters from smaller weight classes headlined last weekend’s slate of combat sports events on American television. UFC Fight Night: Pettis vs. Moreno marked the first time a non-Demetrious Johnson five-round flyweight bout was the main event for a UFC card, while highly-touted WBO junior lightweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko made his ESPN debut against the little-known Miguel Marriaga. The two cards were supposed to run opposite each other (more on that later), so who came out on top in terms of viewers?
We’ll start first with UFC Mexico City on FS1, which didn’t really have any considerable name value whatsoever. The main card averaged 859,000 viewers, with the preliminary card pulling in 633,000 on the same channel. Peak viewership was tallied at 988,000 for the co-main between Alexa Grasso and Randa Markos, but it’s an improvement over the last night-time UFC event on FS1, which was the TUF 25 Finale, which averaged 724,000 viewers on a Friday night. The previous time a UFC Fight Night card aired at 10 PM ET on Saturday was in June, when Mark Hunt stopped Derrick Lewis in New Zealand. That card averaged 923,000 viewers and peaked at over a million. All things considered, this is a quality result for the UFC and also reasonably encouraging as far as booking flyweights for main events moving forward.
This will be the last UFC event on FS1 until September 16th, when Luke Rockhold takes on David Branch in Pittsburgh. UFC Fight Night: Shogun vs. Saint Preux 2 on Friday, September 22nd (Saturday, September 23rd) in Japan will actually be shown on FXX.
Now we get to the second installment of Top Rank Boxing on ESPN. It did not go well, much of it beyond their control. The average viewership was just 728,000, which is obviously nowhere near Manny Pacquiao’s 3.1 million average for his controversial loss to Jeff Horn in July, but more worrisome is that it’s below the 832,000 for Lomachenko’s April win over Jason Sosa on HBO, a network with a dedicated boxing fanbase but a much lower subscription rate than ESPN. The purpose of Top Rank’s deal was to expose its top fights to a larger audience, and this wasn’t an ideal start. They did get a 0.3 rating in the coveted 18-49 demographic (H/T Smoogy), just like the UFC, and rank higher than them in cable sports rating for Saturday night, but total viewers was not up to scratch.
The caveat here is that Lomachenko vs. Marriaga didn’t come remotely close to starting on time. Preceding this event was the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which was supposed to run from 7-10 PM ET and lead straight into the boxing. The speeches were long and the broadcast literally didn’t end until well after 11:30 PM ET. The broadcast began after 10:30 PM ET on ESPN2, and the co-main event between Ray Beltran and Bryan Vasquez began at about 11:15 PM ET, before moving back to ESPN. Lomachenko vs. Marriaga didn’t start until around 12:20 AM ET, which is a perfectly normal time for many UFC main events, but not usually for major boxing cards. The end result is a very fractured broadcast. Also, Marriaga was in no way a compelling B-side, so there wasn’t much of an interesting storyline for this fight apart from Lomachenko fighting on cable. Lomachenko is expected to compete again in December, and it’s really important for Top Rank to pursue better matchups.
If we are to excuse some of the problems due to the card essentially being delayed by more than an hour, then we’ll learn a lot more about Top Rank’s realistic future on ESPN when Terence Crawford (31-0, 22 KOs) fights Julius Indongo (22-0, 11 KOs) to unify all four major junior welterweight titles. The August 19th matchup will be staged in Crawford’s home state of Nebraska, where he’s very popular, but it’s important for Top Rank and ESPN to really promote the rarity of a true “undisputed championship” bout in boxing, along with Crawford’s potential to be the next American boxing star at a time when the majority of the sport’s top names are not from the USA.