Top Rank takes gamble by putting Crawford-Horn on ESPN+

Updated June 8, 2018 - 7:31 pm

Millions tuned in to ESPN to watch Jeff Horn’s major upset over Manny Pacquiao 11 months ago.

Top Rank boxing has delivered high TV ratings since joining ESPN a year ago. But Horn’s next fight with Top Rank and ESPN probably will see a steep decline in viewership.

ESPN will air Saturday’s Terence Crawford-Horn bout on the network’s new app that costs $4.99 per month. Not many boxing fans are happy about paying for another subscription to watch fights.

Top Rank promoter Bob Arum urged fans to give the ESPN streaming app a chance with the seven-day free trial. ESPN+ holds Top Rank’s extensive library of fights that goes back 50 years, and subscribers have access to other sporting events.

“I promise you will love this app,” Arum said. “If I’m lying, all you have to do is cancel before seven days and it won’t cost you a nickel.”

Crawford, one of boxing’s rising stars, admitted that he preferred to have his fight Saturday air on basic cable to draw more fans. But the former undisputed junior welterweight champion said he understands Arum’s and ESPN’s experiment.

“You can’t hold back the future, and the future is direct to consumer,” Arum said. “The future is ESPN+, where I believe in the next 10 to 20 years everyone will be watching their entertainment on direct to consumer platforms. Like Netflix in entertainment, ESPN+ will be the place for sports in abundance.

“Get used to it. Jeff Horn and Terence Crawford will go down in history as the two fighters who are the first to fight in this direct to consumer sports entertainment space.”

Crawford-Horn undercard

Jose Pedraza is on the comeback trail to becoming a world champion again, and the first step is Saturday on the Crawford-Horn undercard.

Pedraza will fight Antonio Moran in a co-main event lightweight bout to open the ESPN+ telecast at 6:30 p.m.

“I am ready for this moment,” Pedraza said. “We are going to take things step by step, calmly, but also with confidence. Once we get this fight out of the way, we will continue our route to another world championship.”

Pedraza lost the IBF junior lightweight belt to Gervonta Davis last year. Pedraza hopes to meet one of Top Rank’s 135-pound champions in Vasiliy Lomachenko or Ray Beltran in the near future.

Welterweight contender Jose Benavidez faces Frank Rojas in a 10-round bout. Benavidez hopes to face the winner of Crawford-Horn.

Santa Cruz-Mares 2

After delivering one of the best fights of 2015, Leo Santa Cruz and Abner Mares will fight again Saturday in a Showtime-televised main event at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

“The first fight was a really good one, but I think this one will be even better,” said Santa Cruz, who will defend his WBA featherweight belt. “Mares is a great fighter with a great trainer in Robert Garcia, and that’s the kind of challenge I want. We both want to give the fans a great fight.”

Santa Cruz defeated Mares in the first bout by majority decision.

In the co-main event, Jermell Charlo defends his WBC junior middleweight belt against former world champion Austin Trout. The Showtime broadcast begins at 7 p.m.

More boxing: Follow all of our boxing coverage online at reviewjournal.com/boxing and @RJ_Sports on Twitter.

Contact Gilbert Manzano at gmanzano@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GManzano24 on Twitter.

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