Mark Taffet on MMA Pro League, Boxing v. MMA and more
The former HBO Boxing executive is bringing his talents to the octagon, creating the MMA Pro League. Double G Sports spoke to Taffet about a variety of topics
For over 25 years, Mark Taffet was synonymous with boxing. The former executive of HBO Sports has seen some of the best boxing has to offer. He also is known as the manager of one of the best female fighters in the world in Claressa Shields. After enough experience inside the boxing ring, Taffet decided to take his talents to the octagon.
Teaming with longtime MMA promotor Hani Darwish, Taffet created the MMA Pro League. The format is simple: two MMA teams, with fighters representing Team New Jersey and Team Pennsylvania, will face off against one another. Leading both teams are legendary MMA fighters in Dan Miller and Daniel Gracie.
The inaugural MMAPL event takes place at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Atlantic City in New Jersey on September 15. The fights will be streaming live on FloCombat.com. Before the league kicks off, Double G Sports had the opportunity to speak to Taffet about the MMA Pro League.
Double G Sports: Was it tough transitioning from boxing to MMA?
Mark Taffet: The experience I had at HBO was a great training ground for what we are doing with the MMA Pro League. The fans are different, but most of the same business concepts of producing, marketing, making deals with venues and creating a live arena and TV product is similar to boxing. To me, the transition was invigorating, but not as difficult as some may think.
DGS: What is the biggest difference you have seen between boxing and MMA fans?
MT: The most immediate difference I saw between MMA and boxing fans was something significant. At a live boxing event, the arena usually doesn’t fill up until a few minutes before the main event. In MMA, I was amazed to see that from the very first bell of the very first match, the arenas were filled and the fans were as loud from the first fight to the last bout of the evening. It was a sight I haven’t seen in a few decades of doing combat sports. It immediately gave me a tremendous interest in MMA.
In regards to listening to the fans: Everything is about knowing your audience and listening to them. You have to listen to them in order to know what you are doing wrong, right and most importantly, you have to understand their needs and fulfill them. If you do that, they will come.
When it came to discussing the MMAPL format, it was realized that this type of format couldn’t be replicated inside a boxing ring. Mark further explained the process leading up to the finals.
When the full season begins in 2019, we will have eight teams, an eastern division and a western division with four teams each. There are six weight classes per team and two fighters per weight class. They will compete in a regular season for 12-14 weeks. The top two teams in each division will then compete in the semifinals, with the two winners of that competing for the MMA Pro League National Championship. In total, the season is 16-18 weeks. Fans will enjoy how unpredictable it can be and the fact that there will not be postponements or cancellations.
DGS: Knowing how there have been several issues in the past regarding weight loss/gain in MMA, how are you helping the talent overcome the obstacles?
MT: Nothing is more important than the health and safety of the athletes. Back at HBO, we spoke with medical practitioners, members of the athletic commission, managers, promoters and trainers on a regular basis. The issue of weight loss and its impact on health and performance is of the utmost importance. I’m new to MMA, and I’m in the process of having a number of those conversations with the right folks. There are a lot of issues across MMA, and there is no unanimity yet about what the right process should be.
One thing is for sure: everyone in the sport is taking this issue very seriously, and everyone will be working with the proper representatives until a solution is devised. For now, making weight and having time to rehydrate properly are all important issues.
DGS: In regards to speaking with the right people, what is it like working with Dan Miller, Daniel Gracie and Hani Darwish?
MT: While new to MMA, I have had the tremendous fortune of working with people who are icons in the sport in various capacities. My partner Hani (Darwish) is a black belt, receiving it from Renzo Gracie. He is one of the most respected members of the MMA community, being a part of the sport for a few decades now.
Dan Miller and Daniel Gracie are true icons of the sport. They are leaders, former fighters, and most importantly, they are mentors for athletes. That is something very important to us over here at MMA Pro League. We want fighters attracted to our league based on the quality of the coaches, and the coaches care for the proper development of the athletes for their futures. We couldn’t be happier to have both Dan Miller and Daniel Gracie as the two coaches to start us off.
DGS: What are you looking for in regards to new coaches down the line?
MT: As stated before, when the season begins, there will be an eastern and a western division. We’d like to find coaches who live and practice the sport in their markets, most of them with gyms where they train some of the best the world has to offer. We will have iconic coaches in the different cities, just like we have with Dan Miller and Daniel Gracie in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. They will be men and women who are great mentors who have a passion for the sport, and who are willing to give their time to see the next generation of great stars be developed properly.
DGS: For the first time in a while, the UFC is not the only major player in MMA. As you try to differentiate yourselves, especially with Bellator and the PFL out there as well, how good is competition in combat sports?
MT: There is nothing better for sports than competition. It is the best thing for the fans, the fighters and it brings out the best in all of the executives at the respective organizations. The UFC and Bellator have done a magnificent job in expanding the sport, and creating awareness at levels never thought existed. One of the biggest difference between us and them is our commitment to our location.
At any given point, both companies are the same when it comes to live events. They tend to go to a city, produce their show and move on to the next town. MMA Pro League doesn’t and won’t compete with the UFC or Bellator. We have a team-based approach. Our teams will be based in cities, will have home venues and training facilities and will have a connection with fans, not only at the local level, but all year round. There will be activities for youths and adults, while also traveling around the country in the offseason outside of our zones.
What we plan to do at MMA Pro League is create a foundation-level for the sport which is so important, not only for our expansion, but for every entity in the sport today. If we do our jobs well, everyone in the sport, from the fans to the fighters, will benefit greatly.
DGS: Down the line, will there be more women in the league format?
MT: We have six weight classes per team, five for men and one for the women. After that, we will evaluate going forward. It is not only critical that we have women involved, it is something we would never think otherwise about. Some of the greatest stars in MMA today are female fighters. We admire and respect their journey and we want them to be a part of our league forever.
DGS: What is the ultimate five-year plan for the MMA Pro League?
MT: I would like to see an expansion to 16 teams in the U.S., and I’d like to see our minor league system in 32 cities. That would ensure an increased foundation level and growth around the country. I would also like to see three other territories around the world, in order to have a World Cup format and crown a true world champion.
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