Former HBO executive Mark Taffet revolutionized the use of pay-per-view for boxing events decades ago and now hopes to make a mark in mixed martial arts with a team-concept called the MMA Pro League. Taffet and partner Hani Darwish head up the fight promotion, debuting Saturday, Sep. 15, and streaming live on FloCombat.com.
As novel as MMA Pro League touts its concept as being, there have of course been several notable attempts in recent years at launching team-based mixed martial arts promotions. The most well-known and perhaps impactful of these efforts was the International Fight League (IFL).
The IFL signed excellent prospects and MMA legends, both, to fight and coach on teams ostensibly based out of different cities across the world. The promotion also received substantial beat and mainstream media coverage and raised significant amounts of investor cash.
Still, the IFL never managed to be a major ticket seller or draw consistently big ratings on television and folded after a few years of producing some excellent and high-level MMA cards.
Taffet insists that he isn’t getting into MMA with naiveté, especially when it comes to using a team sports concept. In fact, ahead of his promotion’s debut, he tells us that he learned a lot from the IFL’s short run, in large part because of a personal connection to the promotion.
“My most important reflection on the IFL is a personal one,” Taffet says.
“Jay Larkin was at Showtime when I was at HBO and we both were key negotiators for putting together the first Lennox Lewis vs. Mike Tyson fight. That was a pretty remarkable deal that we put together with the two networks because the fans wanted to see the fight, and Jay and I became good friends.”
When Larkin later joined the IFL in an attempt to revive the MMA promotion a few years before his tragic death, Taffet says his old friend and he often spoke about the project and its challenges.
“He and I spent a lot of time talking about that league – the good, the bad, and the ugly,” he continues. “That league was ahead of its time, first and foremost. I also believe that they spent too much time focusing on sensationalism. There was a lot of violence being shown in those early [IFL] broadcasts. There were close-ups of cuts, ambulance chasing type scenes.
“With MMA Pro League, we have excellent fighters and will put on great contests, but we consider them and will present them as athletes, first and foremost. We will emphasize the amazing athleticism, and dedication these athletes in MMA have. I have confidence that fans will respond to that, as well as the chance to root for these athletes who will truly be based in cities. They will train there, live there, and be active in those communities. It will be organic, real, and emphasize the right things. I believe fans will ultimately root for MMA athletes in a way that they haven’t in a long time.”
(Mark Taffet, coach Dan Miller, co-founder Hani Darwish)