By Stanley White: The highly hyped Vasyl Lomachenko vs. Guillermo Rigondeaux contest wasn’t much of a compelling fight for the boxing fans that took time out to watch it on ESPN last Saturday night, but it brought in a lot of viewers who got caught up into the pre-fight discussion about the fight.
Lomachenko-Rigondeaux brought in 2,114,000 viewers on ESPN to watch the bigger and stronger WBO super featherweight champion Lomachenko (10-1, 8 KOs) beat an opponent that had to move up 2 weight classes to fight him in Rigondeaux (17-1, 11 KOs).
Rigondeaux vs. Lomachenko came in at #2 in the ratings for the most watched boxing card on TV in 2017. The No.1 fight was the July 2 fight between Manny Pacquiao and Jeff Horn, which brought in 3,925,000 viewers. That fight was far more interesting to watch than last Saturday’s contest between Lomachenko and Rigondeaux. That fight turned out to be a dud from round 1 until the bitter end after round 6 with Rigondeaux quitting on his stool due to a left hand injury.
With the fight being on free television on ESPN, it helped attract boxing fans to watch the Lomachenko-Rigondeaux fight. It’s unclear how many viewers the fight would have attracted had it been on HBO or Showtime.
There’s talk that Lomachenko’s fights will start being shown on pay-per-view at some point in 2018. I guess the idea is to attract boxing fans in having Lomachenko’s fights shown on free television right now on ESPN, and then once he’s got enough followers, move his fights over to pay-per-view on ESPN. We’ll have to see if that works. While there are some boxing fans that don’t mind seeing a fighter like Lomachenko on ESPN, they might draw the line when it comes to having to pay to see his fights.
Lomachenko will need to face some big stars to get the boxing public to want to pay to see his fights on PPV. If Lomachenko is going to be fighting guys like Ray Beltran and Jorge Linares, it’s not going to do the job. Lomachenko needs to fight the more popular guys like Mikey Garcia, Keith Thurman, Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford. If Lomachenko wants to become a star, he’s going to need to take the same kind of risk that Rigondeaux did last Saturday in moving up 2 to 3 weight classes to face the big guys. If Lomachenko is willing to step outside of his comfort zone and give an advantage to his opponents, he might just become a star. If Lomachenko is risk avoidance like he’s been, he’ll never be a star. It will require Lomachenko to risk fighting bigger guys for him to attract the kind of fans that he needs to watch him fight on PPV. It also wouldn’t hurt if Lomachenko becomes a little more aggressive inside the ring. He’s too much of a show boater, and not enough of an offensive fighter.
There aren’t any big stars in the lightweight division that Lomachenko is planning on moving to next year. Mikey Garcia is the only star in that weight class, and he’s moving up to 140 to challenge for the IBF title against champion Sergey Lipinets in February of next year. Moving up 3 weight classes to the welterweight division is Lomachenko’s best bet to become a PPV star. He’s not going to become a star moving up to lightweight and fighting his promoter Bob Arum’s guys in that weight class.