The passing of former heavyweight boxing champion Joe Frazier on Nov. 7 brought to light another passing: That of professional boxing itself.
Although boxing fans do get some must-see bouts, they are too few and much too far between for anyone but extremely hard-core fans to care about or notice.
And much to the chagrin of people who grew up watching the likes of heavyweights such as Frazier, Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Larry Holmes, Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis, all of the hotter fights seem to be among welterweights: Manny Pacquiao vs. Juan Manuel Marquez, who on Nov. 12 fought for the third time; and Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Victor Ortiz in September.
A long-discussed bout between Pacquiao and Mayweather may be the only fight on the horizon that could attract casual and even non-boxing fight fans, and that may or may not happen in 2012.
Meanwhile, Mixed Martial Arts has captured the enthusiastic demographic that long belonged to boxing. On Nov. 12, Fox aired the first showing of an MMA card under its new seven-year deal with Ultimate Fighting Championship, which has been valued at upward of $100 million. It attracted 5.7 million viewers and a 3.1 rating, according to Fox.
Industry analysts said that among men 18-34, the UFC event on Fox out-rated every college football game this season other than LSU-Alabama and was on-par with many post-season MLB games.
In addition, according to UFC, the Fox event also attracted a strong showing among two other demographics: women ages 18-34 and men 30-50.
"When you look at the key demographic for MMA, 18-34 year-old males, when was the last time they saw a great heavyweight boxing match? For most, not in their lifetime," said Bryan Johnston, CMO for UFC. "We present great heavyweight matches on a regular basis."
Adam Geiser, who for a decade was the head of marketing and then president for Everlast, the iconic company that has been associated with boxing since 1910, pinpointed a key problem he sees with boxing. "It does not have an organized body," said Geiser. "It does not have a UFC, a Dana White [UFC president]. Somebody who oversees the sport and reins it in so it is unified and definitive in who is champ, designates what the most important bouts should be, makes sure things that have hurt and are hurting the sport either stop or are being prevented."
For the record, Vitali Klitschko earned the WBC super-heavyweight title in September by defeating Tomasz Adamek. His twin brother, Wladmir Klitschko, holds the WBC and IBF heavyweight titles. Whether or not they and other current boxers of note can build and expand the sport's current fan base remains to be seen.
"The sport is definitely missing a personality," said Geiser, who is evp-sales and business for Mission Athletecare. "Floyd Mayweather is one of the best boxers of his generation. Manny Pacquiao is phenomenal. But at the end of the day, when you talk about MMA, you're talking about UFC. You're not talking about Randy Couture, 'Rampage' Jackson, Jon Jones. You talk about UFC because it's a product."
According to UFC's Johnston, "People misinterpret that we don't like boxing. We embrace boxing. Boxing is part of MMA. But do we have a sport that attracts 18-34-year old males, who [years ago] would have followed boxing but are now passionate about MMA and want to embrace MMA for many years to come? Yes."
According to UFC, UFC.com gets more than seven million unique visitors per month, has more than six million fans on Facebook and more than 300,000 followers on Twitter.
"It's about the community, about having a place that fans who follow MMA can call home," said Johnston. "Without that, you quickly become irrelevant."