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Showtime’s Santa Cruz-Frampton card outdraws HBO’s Vargas-Berchelt as ratings war heats up

Leo Santa Cruz, left, and Carl Frampton fight at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas on Jan. 28.
(John Gurzinski / AFP/Getty Images)

Showtime might have a 30% smaller subscriber base than HBO, but the premium network rose up Saturday to pull an upset in a battle that is expected to continue throughout the year.

Showtime’s broadcast of Leo Santa Cruz’s World Boxing Assn. featherweight title victory over Carl Frampton from MGM Grand in Las Vegas beat HBO’s airing of Miguel Berchelt’s surprise stoppage of World Boxing Council super-featherweight champion Francisco Vargas from Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio.

The majority decision victory by Los Angeles’ Santa Cruz (33-1-1, 18 knockouts) to avenge his July majority decision loss to Frampton in New York generated an average of 587,000 viewers, according to ratings information obtained by the Los Angeles Times, peaking with 643,000 viewers.

Vargas’ upset loss, meanwhile, had an average of 497,000 viewers with peak viewership at 561,000.

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Showtime, which also broadcast the impressive third-round knockout victory by new WBC lightweight champion Mikey Garcia and an interview with Floyd Mayweather Jr. about the potential of a bout with UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor, also topped HBO with overall broadcast viewership of 494,000 to HBO’s 476,000.

“We’re certainly very happy with the ratings and very happy how we performed head-to-head,” Stephen Espinoza, the executive vice president and general manager for Showtime Sports, told Boxing Scene. “But most importantly, we’re happy with the action in the ring.

“Because ratings and viewership are an incidental byproduct of doing good fights. And the belief is if, for the good of the sport and for the good of the network, if we continue to do high-quality and entertaining fights, the audience will show up. And that’s good for us and good for the sport.”

Showtime had a jump start on HBO by televising the entertaining Jan. 14 super-middleweight title-unification draw between Badou Jack and James DeGale that performed well, and it previously released an aggressive first-quarter schedule of fights that continues Feb. 18 with former four-division champion Adrien Broner versus Chicago’s tough Adrian Granados.

CBS will also televise the Showtime-produced welterweight title-unification between unbeatens Keith Thurman and Danny Garcia March 4 in New York. CBS owns Showtime.

HBO, confronting financial restraints, will respond with pay-per-views featuring Miguel Cotto vs. James Kirkland on Feb. 25, Gennady Golovkin vs. Daniel Jacobs on March 18, and Canelo Alvarez vs. Julio Cesar Chavez on May 6.

The networks’ competition is heated over the pursuit of U.S. television rights for the April 29 heavyweight title fight at London’s Wembley Stadium between International Boxing Federation champion Anthony Joshua and former long-reigning champion Wladimir Klitschko.

A decision on that bidding could be made by next week.

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