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Thurman-Garcia ratings best for prime-time boxing since 1998

The Keith Thurman-Danny Garcia welterweight world title unification fight, one of the most significant and highly anticipated fights of the year, was a smash hit with viewers.

In a meeting between undefeated world titleholders in their prime, Thurman (28-0, 22 KOs) edged Garcia (33-1, 19 KOs) by split decision to unify 147-pound belts on Saturday night before a boxing-record crowd of 16,533 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, and millions more watching on television.

The fight, televised live on CBS in prime time, averaged 3.74 million viewers and peaked at a whopping 5.1 million viewers in the 12th and final round, according to Nielsen Media Research.

CBS said it was the largest audience for a prime-time boxing broadcast since 1998.

The fight saw a 19 percent increase in viewers from when Thurman retained his title by decision against former titleholder Shawn Porter in an action-packed brawl in June on CBS, which has televised only three prime-time cards in nearly 40 years: the two Thurman-headlined shows and Leon Spinks' mammoth upset of Muhammad Ali to win the heavyweight world championship in 1978.

The average viewership for Saturday's entire broadcast, which ran from 9 p.m. to 11:15 p.m. ET and also included Erickson Lubin's fourth-round knockout of Jorge Cota in a junior middleweight title elimination fight, was 3.1 million viewers. CBS said it was the third-most-watched live boxing event on broadcast television since 1998.

In a surprise, the fight drew a much bigger audience -- 83 percent higher -- than ABC's telecast of the NBA game between the Los Angeles Clippers and Chicago Bulls, which averaged 1.7 million.

The success of Thurman-Garcia came two weeks after the Deontay Wilder-Gerald Washington heavyweight world title fight on Feb. 25 averaged 1.76 million viewers and peaked at 2.57 million. But as successful as the Thurman-Garcia fight was, for perspective, a 1995 heavyweight bout between Mike Tyson and Buster Mathis Jr. drew an audience of 43 million viewers to Fox.