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Keith Thurman Looking To Become A Star By Fighting On Network TV

When Keith Thurman fought and beat Shawn Porter in one of the best performances of his career last June, an average of 3.1 million viewers with a peak of nearly 4 million watched on CBS. When Thurman fought and beat Robert Guerrero in 2015, 4.56 million people tuned in to NBC to watch it happen, the biggest TV audience for a boxing match since 1998.

As boxing, thanks to the deals struck by Premier Boxing Champions, occasionally returns to network TV, Thurman and heavyweight titlist Deontay Wilder are the two fighters featured most often. And it’s clear Thurman is the boxer most everybody wants to see.

That theory will be tested again Saturday when Thurman (27-0, 22 KOs) fights a welterweight title unification belt vs. Danny Garcia (33-0, 19 KOs) on CBS at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT. Wilder knocked out an unknown fighter named Gerald Washington on Fox last week and, according to , produced an average of 1.86 million viewers with a peak of 2.57 million.

The Thurman-Garcia bout almost assuredly will get more viewership, in part because Thurman produces exciting fights in front of network audiences that apparently love to watch him work.

“In an era where some people think that PPV is a good thing, it’s incredibly important that a fight of this magnitude is on broadcast television,” promoter Lou DiBella said at a recent press conference. “These two champions have the opportunity to do their thing in front of a huge audience. It’s great for boxing.”

This is part of PBC’s plan – to put one of its biggest fighters on network TV. Saturday’s fight will only be the second primetime fight on CBS in nearly four decades, but if you consider the ratings from the Porter fight, it’s not a stretch to say that traveling this path could make Thurman a potential crossover star, something boxing hasn’t had since Floyd Mayweather retired and something which the sport desperately needs.

“At the end of the day, I want millions upon millions upon millions of viewers,” Thurman told Forbes. “I wait for the day that my fight is viewed by 10 million people. I do believe that network television is going to make that possible. PBC is going into its third year. It’s still kind of new. It took a while to get the ball rolling. But there’s a lot of great fights set up for this year. Mayweather was a big cash cow. But there’s new talent. There’s new entertainment. When it comes to Keith Thurman, it’s always a good fight.”

For Thurman, fighting on PPV doesn’t make much sense. Though a large number of PPV buys could make him more money on the backend of a deal rather than just having to settle for a guaranteed purse, Thurman doesn’t seem interested. He’s already making good money – he made $1.5 million to fight Guerrero and $1.4 million vs. Porter, and according to reports, he and Garcia will both make $2 million on Saturday – and he’d rather have more viewers watching for free than far less than that having to pay $60.

Keith Thurman will make $2 million for his fight with Danny Garcia (Photo by Ed Diller/DiBella Entertainment)

“Maybe me and Shawn Porter would have done a million buys [on PPV],” Thurman said. “But I’m looking forward to the day when the numbers come back that says there were 10 million viewers. Can you imagine how many people would have watched if Mayweather fought Manny Pacquiao fought on free TV?”

As it is, that fight, which cost $100 on PPV, attracted a record 4.6 million people. But if it was on network TV …

“It,” Thurman said, “would have been easily 20 million viewers.”

Though boxing probably won’t ever return to the mainstream sports status it held last century, producing more fights for network TV would help its current-day popularity. Just ask a Hall of Famer whose career was boosted by fighting on free TV.

“When boxing went off network television, it destroyed a whole generation or era of fighters that normally would have gained a name. ‘I know that kid! I know that kid!’ You may not even be champion but people have heard your name because you were on network television,” Sugar Ray Leonard told Men’s Journal in 2015 “… We introduce these boxers — these talented boxers — not just to the boxing public but to the general public. Because some of these stories of who they are and why they are and why they do what they do and where they want to go — they bring people in, like it did with me. It impacted and gave people a chance to know me, far more than in the ring. It humanized me, if you will.”

Perhaps the same can happen for Thurman. If he wins vs. Garcia – and he’s about a 2/1 betting favorite to do so – and wins impressively while showing off his intelligence and charismatic personality, Thurman’s stock among casual fans will rise. After all, his fight vs. Porter was the most-watched fight of 2016, and there’s a good chance his matchup with Garcia will produce the best ratings of any matchup signed for 2017.

“It feels awesome to hear about the ratings with the Shawn Porter fight,” Thurman said. “I’m truly looking forward to getting better ratings with Danny Garcia. Two champion going to toe to toe in their primes. I don’t think a boxing fan can ask anything more than that. I’m looking forward to producing some big numbers.”

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