Bob Arum previously spoke about his fears that putting on fights without fans would be too expensive and wouldn’t make enough money back to be commercially successful. His fears might have been confirmed if the numbers and approval ratings from his first two events are anything to go by.
On Tuesday, 9th June, Shakur Stevenson v Felix Caraballo headlined the Top Rank card but averaged just 397,000 viewers. Despite being the first live boxing to be shown in the states since March, the ESPN broadcasted event failed to entice US fans. Part of this problem is simply down to the fact that Arum put together completely uninspiring matchups.
Going into this fight Stevenson was always going to destroy Caraballo. Boxing fans want to see a genuine fight, not one boxer being paid well to be a human set of pads for the other. It was lopsided, not really entertaining to watch, and on top of everything Stevenson injured his hand fighting someone who did nothing to further his career.
The 33-year-old Caraballo had never fought outside of Puerto Rico, had never fought someone of Stevenson’s level before Tuesday, and realistically should never have been brought out against anyone in the top 100, which he himself has never broken into. We massively respect Caraballo for taking the fight and putting himself on the line, but there are clear levels to boxing and smart matchmaking exists for a reason, to protect fighters.
On a national level, Top Rank’s event was beaten by the Major League Baseball draft, which averaged 611,000 viewers on Wednesday night. This was a huge success for the MLB as it improved 101% on their viewers from the year before, 304,000. Top Rank’s first event was even beaten by classic boxing reruns aired on ESPN, for example, the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier trilogy aired in April which averaged 647,000. This shows that US boxing fans are willing to watch fights on ESPN, just not the bouts Arum put together.
The second installment of Arums ‘Boxing is Back!’ cards didn’t fare any better. Despite more exciting matches, with a genuine competition between Adam Lopez and Louie Coria for the vacant NABF Featherweight belt on the undercard, the broadcast was a ratings failure. Without the star power of Shakur Stevenson holding it up, the card received an average of just 311,000 and a dismal approval rating of 0.09, which put it in 80th place based on cable TV broadcasts for that day. It even placed behind ‘Deadliest Catch’ which, if you didn’t know, is a show about crab fishing.
The headliner between Jessie Magdaleno vs. Yenifel Vicente was a complete nightmare, as Vicente was disqualified for a string of low blows to Magdaleno during the fight, as well as a late headshot directly following a low blow in the fourth round. Vicente was penalized for 3 low blows, but I personally counted at least 5. Magdaleno got hit in the groin, but also his knees. Now I’m only a casual boxer, but I’ve never missed someone’s body by far enough to hit below the lowest part of their shorts. The whole thing was horrible to watch honestly, with Magdaleno enduring some of the hardest and most direct low blows I’ve ever seen. The infractions were deemed so bad that the Nevada State Athletic Commission is considering taking action against Vicente. Bob Bennet, the executive director of the NSAC told ESPN, “Subsequent, referee Byrd took points and as the executive director I am considering moving forward with a recommendation of a suspension or a letter of reprimand to Vicente.”
On the undercard, the featherweight fight between 24-year-old Adam Lopez and 21-year-old Louie Coria was done a genuine disservice by being on this card. It would have been great for both of these young men if they’d had more exposure to boxing fans as their 10-round contest, which ended in Lopez getting a majority decision win, was a great showcase of their abilities and both men gave a great account of themselves.
What could this mean for Hearn’s Fight Camp?
Under the circumstances it would be easy to draw parallels between Arum’s ‘Boxing is Back!’ and Eddie Hearn’s ‘Matchroom Fight Camp’. Both men have had to deal with the trouble of paying fighters to appear without receiving money from ticket sales, plus the added costs that COVID-19 related arrangements will incur. Both have had to promote fights to fans who have a plethora of other issues to deal with right now which trump boxing. But Hearn shouldn’t be worried that his events will go the same way Arum’s have.
For one, boxing just doesn’t enjoy the same popularity in the states as it does in the UK. British boxing fans have always had a reputation of being more supportive and die-hard than their US counterparts. Fury and Joshua individually enjoy more support than Wilder ever has, despite the US having a population 5 times larger. When Fury and AJ face each other the fans will be divided, but if either one faced Wilder we’d likely all be backing the same man.
The other thing is that Hearn is looking to put together some genuinely interesting matches for Fight Camp. Rather than promoters throwing together any two fighters who come from the UK because they can’t get outside competition, the fact that they’ve been forced to focus on homegrown competition has led to the matchups many of us have wanted to see for a while. While American boxing discussions are regularly about putting on the biggest international shows, British boxing forums are constantly debating which local fighters should fight next.
Hearn made a great dissection of the situation while talking to Jordan Gill and Reece Bellotti, who will be facing each other on Fight Camp’s first card. On Matchroom YouTube channel Hearn explained that because he can’t put on fights as easily as he could before, each fight he organizes is going to be carefully picked.
Hearn can’t really afford to put all of his fighters into tune-up fights or stay-busy fights, because the success of Fight Camp relies directly on people wanting to tune in and watch from the start. While under regular circumstances there would be smaller events going on up and down the country that he could send his boxers to, the luxury of stay-busy fights is gone and his fighters will have to jump straight in against their best competition. Bellotti and Reece for example might have gone another year or two without fighting each other had boxing not been put on standby. But with fighters, promoters, and fans all being hit financially by COVID-19, there’s no room for fights that don’t make sense.
While we have no real indication of how well Frank Warren, Eddie Hearn, or the other local promoters are going to navigate the current situation, the health of the British boxing scene and the sheer number of talented boxers the UK has will greatly help any show that is put on. While it’s not an ideal situation, the focus on making competitive fights which Bob Arum missed completely, is going to serve British boxing well when it finally returns.