There will be a lot more Top Rank Boxing on ESPN for years to come.
On Thursday, the promotional company and network announced a new seven-year contract they called "the most comprehensive, exclusive rights agreement in the history of boxing."
The contract, which immediately replaces a four-year deal that began last summer between Top Rank and ESPN, runs through August 2025. It calls for 54 live boxing events annually in addition to shoulder programming, fights from Top Rank's extensive library and studio content, including new shows to be announced.
Top Rank and ESPN signed a four-year deal that began in August 2017. It was amended in April to coincide with the launch of the ESPN+ streaming service on which Top Rank began promoting exclusive boxing cards. Under the new deal, Top Rank events will continue to air live on ESPN in prime time as well as on ESPN+.
"ESPN is thrilled with this new long-term agreement with Top Rank, which represents the most innovative and comprehensive relationship in the world of boxing today," said Jimmy Pitaro, ESPN president and the co-chairman of Disney Media Networks. "By creating and distributing significantly more Top Rank events and boxing content, ESPN and Top Rank will jointly cultivate upcoming fighters and fights, creating the stars of tomorrow while providing fans with the sport's best content in a more personalized manner."
Under the new deal, the 54 live events per year will include 18 cards that will air on ESPN, 12 more prime-time cards that will stream exclusively on ESPN+ and 24 "premium international events" on ESPN+. There will also be undercard coverage of all 54 events on ESPN+.
ESPN+ will also continue to provide coverage of weigh-ins and news conferences, and make past fights available on demand.
"This expanded relationship with Top Rank increases the ability of ESPN+ to serve boxing fans better than ever and allows us to continue to build more direct relationships with this incredibly passionate audience," said Kevin Mayer, who oversees ESPN+ as Disney's chairman of direct-to-consumer and international.
Top Rank has been putting international fights on ESPN+ by acquiring the U.S. broadcast rights from other promoters, and it will continue to do so, primarily by securing rights to cards promoted by Frank Warren in the United Kingdom, Zanfer Promotions in Mexico and Japanese events promoted by Teiken Boxing.
"This partnership will continue to bring the biggest events and best fighters from around the world to ESPN networks," said Top Rank president Todd duBoef, who negotiated the deal with the network. "Our collective ability to integrate live events, classic fights, studio shows and behind-the-scenes features will raise the long-term profile of the sport of boxing and the athletes."
The first year of Top Rank Boxing on ESPN has included several high-profile fights. Jeff Horn's controversial decision over Manny Pacquiao to win a welterweight world title last summer kicked things off; the live fight from Brisbane, Australia, averaged 3.1 million viewers and peaked at 4.4 million, making it the most-watched boxing telecast on cable since 2006 and ESPN's highest-rated boxing telecast since 1995.
The Top Rank Boxing on ESPN series also included Terence Crawford's historic third-round knockout of Julius Indongo to become the undisputed junior welterweight world champion last August, and Crawford's move up to welterweight to stop Horn in the ninth round on June 9 to win a welterweight title in a fight streamed exclusively on ESPN+.
Pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko's sixth-round knockout of Guillermo Rigondeaux to retain his junior lightweight world title in December was the second-most-watched cable boxing telecast of 2017, averaging 1.85 million viewers. It was the first boxing match in history to feature two two-time Olympic gold medalists.
Lomachenko also headlined a prime-time card on May 12 as he knocked out Jorge Linares in the 10th round to win the lightweight world title in what is, so far, the most-watched cable boxing broadcast of 2018 (1.024 million viewers). With the win, Lomachenko set the record for fewest fights (12) needed to win world titles in three weight divisions.
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