Boxing Insider Interview with Mark Taffet: Claressa Shields is a Game Changer
By: William Holmes
Mark Taffet is one of the power players in the sport of boxing and has been for the past quarter century. He wrote the business plan to help launch HBO Pay Per View (PPV) Boxing in 1991 and participated in 190 PPV fights.
He’s currently 59 years old, and he left HBO because he wanted to be a part of the next generation of great athletes in the sport of boxing, and help in the development of the next generation of fans in the sport.
He was critical in helping make the fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao a reality, and believes that the place atop the mountain top in boxing is open now that the Mayweather/Pacquiao era is coming to an end.
Taffet also strongly believes that he can have a more direct impact on the sport of boxing through his own company Mark Taffet Media, and that impact is already being felt.
Boxing Insider recently had the privilege of speaking with Mark Taffet about his current involvement with the sport, his thoughts on the Pay Per View business model, the comparison between women’s mixed martial arts (MMA) and women’s boxing, his thoughts on Premier Boxing Champions (PBC), and other various topics.
Boxing Insider (BI): What projects have you been involved with since leaving HBO?
Mark Taffet (MT): I’ve been very fortunate to work closely with Luis Ortiz, who is one of the best, if not the best, heavyweight in the world today. I’m also working with Claressa Shields, who is a game changer and is a once in a century athlete who will not only change the face of women’s boxing, but potentially the face of all boxing, in years to come.
I’ve worked with Golden Boy Promotions, Roc Nation, and Main Events consulting for them on the fights of Canelo Alvarez, Miguel Cotto, Andre Ward, and Sergey Kovalev. I’ve also been fortunate to work with a number of new media companies, some of which I have a stake in, in the areas of podcasting or audio on demand; as well as in some new technology companies that are particularly important in the area of social media and social media monetization, which I think is one of the next great frontiers in the media business.
BI: One of the fighters that you currently work with is two time Olympic Gold Medalist Claressa Shields; but why do you think women’s boxing hasn’t been as popular in the United States as women’s MMA?
MT: It’s very interesting. I think it’s more of an issue of demographics than anything. MMA has been fortunate to appeal to younger fans, very much people between the ages of 15 and 34. Boxing in general appeals to an older audience, in many cases 50 years of age or older. That provided an advantage to MMA because of the more readily accepting audiences at the younger end of the demographic cycle.
Right now, because of the back end of the careers of Mayweather and Pacquiao, and the transition of the sport to the next generation, I believe there’s a unique opportunity for women’s boxing to experience a resurgence, and with a young woman like Claressa Shields who has the talent in the ring as well as the incredible charisma and vision outside the ring, I think women’s boxing is particularly well positioned to have a resurgence and reach the kind of popularity that women’s MMA has realized with Ronda Rousey, Holly Holm, Miesha Tate, and a number of other women the past few years.
BI: Do you think Claressa Shields could become a future PPV star?
MT: If any woman can captivate an audience, which is necessary for a successful PPV, it would be Claressa Shields.
Just today, this 21 year old woman, tweeted out a magnificent black and white photo of herself in a Flint, Michigan shirt juxtaposed against a young Mike Tyson with the two of them in virtually parallel poses, and she used only one word to describe the tweet.
Mood. M, O, O, D.
She has such a sense of the moment, of the significance of the moment she’s about to experience, at the young age of 21 in just her first pro fight, that tweet gave me and the people who viewed it chills. If anything, it exemplifies why I believe she has the unique capability to carry women’s boxing, and the sport of boxing on her shoulders in the years ahead. She has set some very lofty goals for herself. In her mind the words Claressa Shields and impossible never appear in the same sentence and never will. She’s made a believer out of me in a short few .
BI: Bob Arum recently stated that he thinks boxing PPVs will become few and far between, do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?
MT: I had the privilege of working on over 80 PPV fights in my career with Bob Arum. He is one of my great mentors. I have incredible respect for his ability and admiration for his energy. Bob knows better than anyone that PPV is a business of hits and misses; and it simply depends on what product you have on a particular day as to whether or not you’re going to be successful. There are no patterns, it’s simply a matter of the event you have at a particular point in time. PPV works when the fight is like a super bowl, when it’s a moment in time, when it’s an event that will cause people to watch, not individually, but in groups, where friends and family socialize together. Three, four, or five times a year PPV can be incredibly successful, as it has been for the past 25 years, and will be for the next 25 years.
I believe Bob agrees with that. He has fighters like Terence Crawford and Oscar Valdez and others who have the potential to capture the public’s imagination. I believe Bob will see many good days and many good fighters where he will be a supporter of PPV like he has been the past 25 years.
BI: When you were with HBO, did you ever consider televising MMA or the UFC?
MT: There were discussions at times over the past years about televising MMA. I wasn’t really privy to the discussions and the details, but I know that the company has a great tradition in boxing, a great respect for the sport and its history, and a real understanding of the value of boxing to HBO viewers.
BI: What are your thoughts on Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions? Do you think it helped or hurt the sport of boxing?
MT: That’s a great question….
Al is a very smart man with deep roots in boxing. He has a real passion for the sport of boxing, and a real vision for its success. It’s critical for the sport of boxing to succeed that it have broad platforms, and Al and the PBC brought a lot of networks that haven’t been televising boxing, big broad reaching networks back into the fold, and he and his team deserve a tremendous amount of credit for those efforts.
I think that it’s been a little difficult for the consumers to follow the story lines, because of the number of networks and the number of fighters that have been involved, but I think the idea at its core is a strong one and I think that it’s only positive for fans to see more boxing on more networks than in the years past.
BI: What’s your most proud accomplishment in boxing and what’s your biggest regret?
MT: My most proud accomplishment was providing for many of the lighter weight fighters, who prior to PPV didn’t have much exposure and were not able to earn the money that they deserve, a platform for their success.
In 1993 when Michael Carbajal and Chiquita Gonzalez fought successfully on pay-per-view, it opened the door for the future success of fighters like Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez, Erik Morales, Manny Pacquiao and Julio Cesar Chavez. And as a result, those fighters and many others in lighter weight classes were able to reap the financial benefits that were previously unavailable to them.
I was very proud to help create an economic pathway for many great fighters to earn the money they deserve.
I don’t really have many regrets. I’m a very positive person. I was thrilled to be a part of a great 25 years of history in my reign at HBO sports. I’m proud of the fact that virtually every big fight that was available to be made came to fruition and was available for the public to view. There were a few that got away, but not many. I’m very proud of the little part of history I was able to be a part of and I really don’t have any regrets.
BI: Do you think a rematch between Mayweather and Pacquiao is feasible, and would you be interested in watching it?
MT: Well I don’t have the contact and privity with those fighters and their promoters; particularly with respect to the circumstances of a rematch that I had when I was employed by HBO, so I’m not in a great position to comment on that.
I do know that fight was the biggest of all time. It resulted in a gathering of fans watching boxing across the country like very few events in sports history. I was very proud of that.
I do think that because there were so many new fans that purchased the PPV that night, that had in their mind’s eyes an expectation of what might happen but perhaps didn’t have the depth of knowledge that core boxing fans had about what type of fight it figured to be, it resulted in some disappointment; but that simply was a factor of the greatness of Floyd Mayweather and the consistency of Floyd’s style when he wins fights.
It’s boxing, not MMA. Floyd practices the sweet science, and as beautiful an art form as it is, as it has been for all his 49 victories, some of the fans who never purchased boxing may have had a different expectation about the rock ’em sock ‘me level of action that might take place in the ring. That simply isn’t the style that got Floyd Mayweather to where he was as one of the greatest fighters in the sport’s history.
What happened that night in the ring was exactly what I expected if Mayweather were to win. If Pacquiao were to win, it would have required a different type of exchange that may have been more pleasing to the fans, but that was a Floyd Mayweather victory like many that preceded it and I think core boxing fans had a great appreciation for Floyd and his skills that night, but some of the fans that were there for the first time experienced some disappointment simply due to their lack of experience with the sport.
BI: If you could change on thing about boxing what would it be, and where do you see the sport in five years?
MT: I would like to see more of the meaningful matchups and important matchups for the fans take precedence over some of the business interests between promoters that sometimes dictate which fights get made and which ones don’t.
But I do believe that with fighters like Canelo Alvarez, Gennady Golovkin, Sergey Kovalev, Andre Ward, Terence Crawford, Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia, as well as the promise and game-changing potential of Claressa Shields, the sport has a great future ahead of it provided the best matchups get made for the fans.