Even with an upward trend in the final ratings, Deontay Wilder's latest ring appearance barely left a blip on the mainstream radar.
The unbeaten heavyweight titlist made the fifth successful defense of his WBC strap with a 5th round stoppage of Gerald Washington, with the February 25 event - which aired live as part of the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) on Fox in primetime from the Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama - averaged 1.86 million viewers over the course of the two-hour telecast. The main event peaked at 2.57 million viewers, meaning the size of the audience who tuned in for at least one minute and not necessarily the number of people who watched the bout as a whole.
Both numbers are slightly above Wilder's previous ring appearance, also on the same network and at the same venue when he scored a 9th round knockout of Chris Arreola last July. However, they are also below the network average for the primetime slot and also ranked last among the four major networks on the evening.
Across the dial, more than two million viewers tuned in both for NBC's live coverage of a National Hockey League (NHL) game between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins and the National Basketball Association's (NBA) edition of 'Saturday Night Primetime on ABC' featuring the Clevleand Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls. Winning the evening was a non-sporting telecast, as CBS performed above average for episodes of its TV series Ransom and 48 Hours.
Saturday night marked the third time that Wilder (38-0, 37KOs) has appeared live in primetime on free-to-air TV. Aside from the knockout wins over Arreola and Washington, the now-31 year old drew 2.365 million viewers for his late-round stoppage of France's Johann Duhaupas in their Sept. '15 headliner on NBC. All three bouts were staged at the Legacy Arena, with Wilder-Arreola drawing the highest-grossing live gate of the trio.
The bout was Wilder's first since suffering a biceps tear and hand injury in last July's win over Arreola. In Washington, he faced a late substitute, as the previously unbeaten Californian - a former tight end and defensive end during his college football years at USC - stepped in on short notice after originally scheduled Andrzej Wawrzyk tested positive for a banned substance.
It could in part explain Wilder's slow start and early troubles, as most observers had Washington no worse than dead-even with the defending titlist at the time of the stoppage. It proved moot once Wilder was able to floor his 6'7" foe and eventually finish him off, but his performance left quite a bit to be desired.
It seems that casual fans feel the same about his title reign and marketability in general. Saturday's bout reeked of more of the same since winning the title in 2015. Among his five title challengers, only Artur Szpilka - whom Wilder knocked out cold in nine rounds last January - could be regarded as a Top 10 contender at the time of the fight. The Polish slugger fought on even terms through eight rounds before getting caught with a booming right hand to put him down and out.
Wilder and Szpilka nearly came to blows during that fight week, when a photo session at the World Trade Center went horribly awry. This time, Wilder's out-of-the-ring troubles came after the fight, when his camp - led by his brother Marsellos - went after Dominic Breazeale and his team in the hotel lobby at The Westin across the street from the venue. Surprisingly no arrests were made, although the Birmingham police was brought on site to break up the melee. The starting point for the altercation was rumored to have stemmed from Marsellos taking offense to Breazeale - who'd rallied to knock out Izo Ugonoh in the televised opener - cheering for Washington from ringside.
Breazeale and Washington both live and train in California and fight under the TGB Promotions banner.
Rumors circulated of the incident possibly setting up Wilder's next fight, although the WBC took care of that problem in ordering a rematch with mandatory challenger Bermane Stiverne. The two have until March 29 to work out terms or else will be subject to a purse bid hearing.
Whether it's Stiverne II or Breazeale, neither fight will help take Wilder's career to the level that PBC brass need if its ongoing series is to extend beyond 2017. At ringside was unbeaten heavyweight titlist Joseph Parker, who has an upcoming title defense versus Hughie Fury in queue but expressed interest in a title unification bout somewhere down the road.
Wilder has talked about unifying the titles throughout his entire title reign. As his star power has yet to extend beyond his home state, it appears that his run is approaching "s*** or get off the pot" status.
All ratings data provided by Nielsen Media Research.