Filipino legend Manny Pacquiao’s controversial decision loss to Jeff Horn in their welterweight world title fight was a big hit for ESPN on Saturday night.
ESPN’s three-hour live telecast of “The Battle of Brisbane” card from Suncorp Stadium, which ran from 10 p.m. ET to 1 a.m. ET, averaged 3.1 million viewers between television and streaming audiences on ESPN and ESPN Deportes, according to the fast national ratings from Nielsen Media Research. It was the highest-rated and most watched boxing telecast on cable television since 2006, and ESPN’s highest-rated boxing telecast since 1995.
Pacquiao (59-7-2, 38 KOs), boxing’s only eight-division world champion, traveled to Horn’s hometown to give the unheralded and massive underdog a shot at the title before a crowd of 51,052, the most ever to attend a Pacquiao fight.
Most watching thought Pacquiao — fighting in a non-pay-per-view fight for the first time since 2005 — had won the action-packed and bloody bout. However, the three judges pulled a stunner, giving Horn (17-0-1, 11 KOs) the decision and the 147-pound world title on scores of 117-111, 115-113 and 115-113.
On ESPN, the telecast averaged a 1.6 household rating and 2.812 million viewers. Carlos Baldomir’s welterweight title defense against Arturo Gatti on HBO on July 22, 2006, also earned a 1.6 household rating. The Pacquiao-Horn main event averaged 3.9 million viewers and peaked at 4.4 million viewers between ESPN and ESPN Deportes.
Pacquiao-Horn was also the highest-rated boxing telecast on ESPN’s networks since the Dec. 21, 1995, fight between heavyweight Danell Nicholson and Darren Hayden, which earned a 1.7 household rating on ESPN.
For comparison, Keith Thurman outpointed Danny Garcia on March 4 at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center to unify two of the welterweight world titles in a much anticipated fight that aired live in prime time on CBS. The bout averaged 3.74 million viewers and peaked at 5.1 million viewers on a broadcast network in tens of millions more homes than ESPN.
ESPN executives were very pleased with the results of their first bout with promoter Top Rank in years.
“More than 4 million fans watched ‘The Battle of Brisbane’ on ESPN platforms in the U.S. and we were thrilled to see their support and enthusiasm for the event,” said ESPN executive vice president of programming and scheduling Burke Magnus. “We are excited about the star power that the sport of boxing has right now and can’t wait for our next opportunity to showcase the very best that boxing has to offer with the Aug. 5 and Aug. 19 Top Rank Boxing on ESPN events showcasing two great champions — Vasyl Lomachenko and Terence Crawford.”
Top Rank and ESPN have partnered for at least two more major cards in August, with junior lightweight titlist Lomachenko and unified junior welterweight champion Crawford leaving their broadcast home at HBO to appear on ESPN.
Lomachenko (8-1, 6 KOs) will defend his 130-pound belt against former featherweight world title challenger Miguel Marriaga (25-2, 21 KOs) on Aug. 5 at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, and Crawford (31-0, 22 KOs) will face fellow two-belt world titleholder Julius Indongo (22-0, 11 KOs) at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska, a short drive from Crawford’s hometown of Omaha, in an effort to unify all four titles in the division.
On ESPN Deportes, Pacquiao-Horn averaged 206,000 Hispanic viewers, including 308,000 viewers in the final half hour of the event, making it the most watched fight on ESPN Deportes since the all-Mexican featherweight world title fight between Leo Santa Cruz and Abner Mares on Aug. 29, 2015, which had an average audience of 355,000 viewers.
ESPN’s Pacquiao-Horn telecast had a streaming average audience of 78,000 viewers, with 392,000 unique viewers, and 14.4 million total minutes streamed. Based on all three measures, the network said the fight was the most streamed boxing event on record on ESPN’s networks. On ESPN Deportes, the telecast had a streaming average audience of 1,400, with 7,800 unique viewers and 253,000 total minutes streamed. Again, based on those three measures, the fight was the most streamed boxing event on record on ESPN Deportes.