Will it take an Angel to draw boxing fans to Facebook Watch?
Golden Boy Promotions continues to branch out with cards on the Facebook platform. This is its third event but it has been met with lackluster viewing figures so far. This time out Golden Boy features a knockout artist in Puerto Rican WBO junior flyweight champion Angel “Tito” Acosta, 18-1 (18), who defends his title against little-known Mexican challenger Abraham Rodriguez, 23-1 (11). Facebook Watch events are boxing’s latest effort in the perpetual pursuit of a younger audience share. It is still too early in the process to render a verdict but Facebook Watch fights seem to lag in viewership, when compared with the ESPN+ and DAZN platforms, despite Facebook offerings being free. The Acosta-Rodriguez title fight and undercard will be streamed live on the “Golden Boy Fight Night” Facebook Page at 9 p.m. ET (from the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas) and are likely to deliver a knockout in the ring, even if the numbers outside of it do not.
Golden Boy’s Facebook boxing series got off to a horrible start when its debut show’s stream crashed in the middle of a main event between Jesus Rojas and Joseph Diaz Jr., last August. This drew widespread derision and mocking on Twitter, leaving more questions open about the platform than it answered. Facebook’s viewer tally never cracked the 70,000 barrier, a number which is not in the same realm as the ludicrous 10 to 15 million views Golden Boy founder Oscar De La Hoya hyped in an interview. Everyone expected a dramatic increase in viewer totals on Golden Boy’s second attempt, since it featured social media phenom Ryan “Kingry” Garcia. However Garcia’s viewer totals disappointed even more, failing to exceed Golden Boy’s first broadcast, according to Facebook viewer figures.
Here’s to the third time being the charm! De La Hoya cast a suitable hero in knockout artist Angel Acosta, who should turn heads with his power, making the second defense of his title. The 28-year-old Puerto Rican has endured the highs and lows of boxing. Acosta came up short in his first title challenge, traveling to Japan in a losing challenge of phenomenal three-division champion Kosei Tanaka. A considerable underdog, Acosta was brave in defeat, showing toughness and earning a shot at the vacant title after Tanaka moved up in weight. On a second attempt, Acosta made good, knocking out Mexican Juan Alejo at New York City’s famed Madison Square Garden.
In Acosta’s first title defense, he took out a more impressive rival, showing late power by stopping four-time title challenger Carlos Buitrago. The lanky bomber always gives himself an opportunity with stunning power and his killer instinct is undeniable, as all his victories are via knockout. Acosta’s failed title fight matured and ultimately bettered him. He displayed heart going the distance for the first time but was unable to get back into the fight after suffering a fifth round uppercut knockdown. He also benefited from the retirement of his mentor Miguel Cotto, since Acosta is part of Cotto Promotions and the former champ now spends more time working as a promoter.
The San Juan native is a student of the game and Acosta was quick to pounce on the fierce rivalry between Mexico and Puerto Rico during the press conference announcing the fight, “I feel happy to be making my second defense against a Mexican fighter. I know that Mexicans always come to give a war. Abraham Rodriguez will come very well prepared and I’m sure we will give a great fight between Puerto Rico and Mexico.” Miguel Cotto, who has shared the ring with plenty of Mexicans, think his protege can become a star on any platform, “I’m very excited to have Tito Acosta headlining in Las Vegas for the first time in his career. He is a rising Puerto Rican star and has everything to become a successful name in boxing. I can’t wait to watch him perform.”
Cotto sent Team Acosta to Los Angeles for maximum preparation, where Acosta and his longtime coach Juan de León were tutored by Freddie Roach. Acosta was enthusiastic about his time with Roach and admitted he had to share the in-demand trainer more than he expected, “Freddie knows that I hit hard and I like to fight but now he wants me to use more jab and box. But I also know that this is little by little because things do not come out overnight and I’ve only been working with him for four weeks.” Acosta said he was also aided by top quality sparring with Scott Quigg, Lolito Sonsona and Mexican Olympian Joselito Velazquez.
Challenger Abraham Rodriguez is a considerable longshot to defeat Acosta and take the title back home to Mexico. It is Rodriguez’s first fight outside of Mexico and he has never faced anyone of note besides journeyman Saul Juarez. More suspicion about Rodriguez’s title qualifications were raised when he lost via stoppage to unexceptional novice Alejandro Hernandez, last March. This is also Rodriguez’s first scheduled 12-round bout, though he did go 10 difficult rounds with the aforementioned Juarez in a narrow majority decision victory.
Despite the abundant questions about Rodriguez’s title aspirations, he is not short of confidence and does not seemed phased by the Vegas surroundings or the hard-punching titleholder, “I’m mentally and physically motivated for this fight. I’m going to come very well prepared to give a war, which is always what happens when you have a fight between the two countries of Mexico and Puerto Rico. I’m happy to have the chance to elevate the name of my country against someone who I know will come prepared for a battle.”
The Facebook Watch event is a triple bill, split in as far as the talent is concerned. For this show, Golden Boy is working with Main Events and Cotto Promotions. De La Hoya said he has no qualms sharing the spotlight, “This is an exciting time for Puerto Rican boxers. There are many world champions from Puerto Rico right now, including (WBA “regular” junior lightweight titlist) Alberto Machado. We’re proud to work with Miguel Cotto Promotions to give a great platform to some of Puerto Rico’s world champions, so it’s a great pleasure to have Tito Acosta headline this Facebook Watch event.” Main Events provides the bulk of the undercard with Russian junior middleweight prospect Bakhram Murtazaliev, 13-0 (11), and Kazakh middleweight Meiirim Nursultanov, 8-0 (7), opening the show.
Facebook is gaining traction as a viewing option with sports fans; it has broadcast college basketball and football games but reached peak viewership with Mexican Liga MX soccer games. The latter is a great signal for boxing events, as Liga MX and boxing share a similar demographic pool. In a recent ESPN interview, De La Hoya even floated the idea of world middleweight champion Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (who has a fight with super middleweight Rocky Fielding lined up for December 15) appearing on the Facebook platform, given Alvarez’s contract with HBO has just expired. “Facebook for Canelo? You never know? CEO Mark Zuckerberg has deep pockets.”
The Facebook live bouts are a practical solution for Golden Boy, even in conjunction with other promoters, since they were recently left out of the direct-to-consumer streaming game. The ESPN+ app chose Bob Arum’s Top Rank as its provider and Matchroom Boxing’s Eddie Hearn struck a billion-dollar deal to deliver a minimum of 16 shows a year for the recently launched (in America) DAZN streaming service. Unverified reports state Facebook rights fees for the Golden Boy events run from $250,000 to $1,000,000 per card. Given a reach of 2.2 billion regular users, Facebook has the biggest upside of any platform but can Golden Boy ever capitalize on those dreamy numbers?