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Vasyl Lomachenko vs. Jorge Linares averaged 1.439 million viewers on ESPN

By Chris Williams: Top Rank promoter Bob Arum must be smiling from ear to ear today at the news that last weekend’s lightweight world title fight between Vasyl Lomachenko and Jorge Linares averaged a whopping 1.439 million viewers with a peak of 1.75 million on ESPN in their fight at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Those are obviously great ratings for a fight in the lightweight division, which historically hasn’t attracted a great deal of interest from boxing fans in the U.S. The high ratings for Lomachenko-Linares could embolden the 86-year-old Arum to have Lomachenko’s next fight against WBO lightweight champion Ray Beltran (35-7-1, 21 KOs) on ESPN pay-per-view. In fact, Arum has already said that’s what he wants to do, put Lomachenko v. Beltran on PPV.

”We may try Loma out on pay-per-view, maybe against Ray Beltran,” Arum said to Everlast’s Talkbox podcast.

Linares vs. Lomachenko was televised on Top Rank Boxing on ESPN last weekend. Lomachenko, 30, moved up in weight from super featherweight to challenge Linares (44-4, 27 KOs) for his WBA 135 lb. title. Lomachenko was shockingly knocked down in the 6th from a straight right hand from Linares, who is not a big puncher, but it didn’t matter. He still put Lomachenko down. After that, Lomachenko went back to his rapid-fire, high volume offensive game, and worked Linares over until stopping him in the 10th with a body shot. Linares was landing the harder, more meaningful punches throughout the contest, but Lomachenko was beating him with his volume attack. It was the same situation we’ve become accustomed to in watching Lomachenko’s fights. He threw a ton of light punches, and eventually wore Linares down to get the stoppage.

Lomachenko’s fight with Linares represents a drop in ratings from his previous fight against former super bantamweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux from last December. That fight averaged 1.73 million viewers. Lomachenko stopped Rigondeaux in the 6th after he quit. That was a fight in which Lomachenko took a lot of criticism for fishing for an opponent that fights 2 divisions below him in 37-year-old Rigondeaux, and not offering him a catch-weight. That fight was won for Lomachenko the moment the contract was signed. It’s very rare in boxing for a fighter to win when they move up 2 weight divisions and aren’t given a catch-weight. The lower ratings for the Lomachenko vs. Linares fight could reflect that the hardcore boxing fans weren’t too thrilled at this fight, because there was zero drama involved in the buildup. The fans knew Lomachenko was going to beat Linares all along, and they had been saying this for weeks. There no suspense at all. The only discussion point about the fight was whether Linares would quit on his stool like Lomachenko’s previous four opponents had.

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The Lomachenko vs. Linares fight represents the second highest ratings for ESPN in boxing in 2018, behind the far more interesting fight between WBO featherweight champion Oscar Valdez and Scott Quigg. That was an exciting fight from start to finish, I must say.

Having Lomachenko’s fights on ESPN, which naturally has a lot of fans watching just for the heck of it, doesn’t necessarily mean that those same fans were tuning in last Saturday night to see Lomachenko specifically. Those fans might have been guys that naturally watch ESPN for other sports. Arum snagged them in his web by placing Lomachenko-Linares on the network last Saturday. So, by Arum getting bold and putting a lesser fight between Lomachenko and Beltran on ESPN PPV, it could wind up as a major fail. I don’t see how it helps Lomachenko grow in popularity unless there are FREE replays a week later on ESPN. It’s not a fight that the boxing fans will go out of their way to watch even on replay.

Lomachenko should be aiming a lot higher than that or should I say, Arum should be aiming higher than that. He’s the one that makes Lomachenko’s fights, and he’s supposedly trying to turn him into a star. I can’t see that happening if he’s going to be fighting guys like Beltran on PPV. To become a PPV attract, you need to be fighting good opposition until you can bring in big enough ratings to where your fights can be sold on PPV. I don’t think that’s happened yet with Lomachenko, and if Arum places his next fight on PPV, I see it being a disaster.

It’ll be interesting to see if Arum’s vision of selling Lomachenko-Beltran to the boxing public on PPV works out. Personally, I think it’s a horrible mistake, because it’s such a terrible fight. Beltran is not a big enough name for Arum to start asking fans to pay to see Lomachenko fight. Arum needs to put Lomachenko in against someone who at least has a 50-50 chance of beating him. Beltran would have no chance at all aside from an injury to beat Lomachenko. The only discussion point for the Lomachenko vs. Beltran fight is which round will Beltran quit. If Arum wants to start peddling Lomachenko’s fights on PPV, he needs to throw him in with Regis Prograis, Terence Crawford or Errol Spence Jr. In other words, put Lomachenko in a situation where he’s the underdog in the fight instead of the way it is now with his opponents ALWAYS being the underdog. I’ve never seen a fight involving Lomachenko where wasn’t the favorite. The reason for that is Arum is consistently matching him against lesser fighters. He needs to take a risk for once by throwing Lomachenko in with Spence, Prograis, Crawford or Keith Thurman. If he loses he loses, but at least Lomachenko will finally know what it’s like to be the underdog.

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