Three years ago, Terence Crawford headlined Top Rank’s annual “Heisman Night” boxing broadcast on ESPN.

Crawford responded almost immediately to one of the most-discussed moments of his career, when Egidijus Kavaliauskas’ right hand seemed to knock him down during the third round in December 2019. The undefeated Crawford quickly regained control of their fight for his WBO welterweight title, dropped the then-unbeaten mandatory challenger nicknamed “Mean Machine” three times and stopped him in the ninth round at Madison Square Garden in New York.

That impressive performance helped intensify interest in the welterweight fight we all still want to see, a showdown with fellow unbeaten champion Errol Spence Jr. It was watched, according to Nielsen Media Research, by an average audience of 1,481,000.

One of Crawford’s prior appearances on ESPN, a 12th-round stoppage of Jose Benavidez Jr., attracted an average audience of 2,245,000 and a peak audience of 2,800,000. His technical knockout of Benavidez in October 2018 also marked the last time Crawford headlined a card at CHI Health Center in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska.

Most of the Top Rank main events ESPN televises don’t draw that type of viewership, thus those numbers provided further evidence that boxing fans would watch Crawford’s fights on that expansive platform, even against a vaguely familiar fighter whose name most of them can’t pronounce.

Almost three years to the day later, Crawford will fight an opponent at CHI Health Center that Kavaliauskas knocked out almost five years ago. His fight versus David Avanesyan won’t be broadcast to ESPN’s enormous audience because Crawford parted ways with Top Rank Inc., his longtime promoter, a year ago and later filed a lawsuit against Bob Arum’s company in which Crawford alleged racial bias and sought in excess of $5.4 million in damages.

It’ll instead cost consumers $39.99 to watch their 12-round, 147-pound title fight, and four rather unremarkable undercard bouts, on pay-per-view. That’s obviously a tough sell, even at a price point that’s lower than most boxing pay-per-view events in the United States.

In an ironic twist, the Crawford-Avanesyan show, Crawford’s first fight since he left Top Rank, will have even more difficulty luring buyers because it’ll go head-to-head with Top Rank’s four-fight “Heisman Night” telecast on ESPN.

Teofimo Lopez, who himself has helped produce almost 3 million viewers for his victory versus Vasiliy Lomachenko on ESPN, will headline Top Rank’s card. Lopez’s 10-rounder with Spanish southpaw Sandor Martin isn’t a high-profile fight, either, but Martin upset heavily favored four-division champion Mikey Garcia two fights ago.

ESPN’s four-bout broadcast also will feature three of Top Rank’s elite prospects – lightweight Keyshawn Davis, junior middleweight Xander Zayas and heavyweight Jared Anderson – in fights that are considered incremental steps up in competition. Even if the undefeated Davis, Zayas and Anderson definitively defeat Juan Carlos Burgos, Alexis Salazar and Jerry Forrest in their respective fights and Lopez dominates Martin, watching those bouts won’t cost fans more than the price they already pay for their cable or satellite packages or for ESPN+, the network’s streaming service.

Crawford (38-0, 29 KOs) is arguably the best boxer, pound-for-pound, in the sport, but the three-division champion is listed as a 14-1 favorite over Avanesyan (29-3-1, 17 KOs) by most sportsbooks and this undoubtedly is an uphill business battle on pay-per-view. Frustrated fans also remain irate because Crawford-Spence, which still appeared possible this time two months ago, has at the very least been delayed yet again for Crawford to make an optional title defense against an opponent next to no one prefers for him to fight.

Spence’s supporters fault Crawford for walking away from prolonged negotiations with Al Haymon to instead face Avanesyan. From Crawford’s viewpoint, however, it was simply impossible to turn down a reported guarantee of $10 million from BLK Prime to fight Avanesyan in the company’s pay-per-view debut.

Even if Crawford’s guarantee were $5 million, that would’ve been a purse too big to ignore for this type of fight, especially since Haymon had convinced Crawford to box the much more dangerous Spence for no guarantee. And Crawford figures, however unrealistic it might be, that he’ll re-engage Haymon in negotiations for the Spence showdown after he overwhelms Avanesyan.

Spence seemingly is headed toward a fight against longtime rival Keith Thurman on an undetermined date in February in Las Vegas.

If Crawford beats Avanesyan, Spences defeats Thurman and, for argument’s sake, Haymon is willing to work with Crawford again, even after Crawford secretly secured the Avanesyan fight while they were negotiating, the buy rate from Saturday night could cost Crawford in those talks. Crawford might not care based on his huge guarantee for a marginal risk versus Avanesyan.

Industry insiders nevertheless expect Crawford-Avanesyan to produce closer to the buy rate for his pay-per-view victory over Viktor Postol (approximately 50,000) than his wins against Amir Khan (roughly 125,000) and Shawn Porter (about 135,000) on that platform. That would become BLK Prime’s problem because boxing’s newest investor is on the hook financially after guaranteeing Crawford so much money.

The potential for this financial failure makes going head-to-head with Top Rank’s show on ESPN a curious choice.

CHI Health Center isn’t available next Saturday night (December 17), but if they were willing to slash the pay-per-view price almost in half, why not try something else unconventional, like scheduling Crawford-Avanesyan for tonight or next Friday night? Crawford’s hometown arena isn’t booked for either of those two nights and at least then they wouldn’t be competing for boxing’s niche audience with a platform that is available in more than 80 million households in the U.S.

Again, pay-per-view buys probably aren’t Crawford’s foremost concern because of his guarantee. But there’s no denying that as heavy a favorite as Crawford is against Avanesyan, one of Top Rank’s former franchise fighters is as big of an underdog from a business standpoint because he’ll go head-to-head with the same ESPN “Heisman Night” boxing broadcast to which he once attracted almost 1.5 million viewers.

Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.