Boxing
HBO's Taffet enjoying a busy spring
Lyle Fitzsimmons


By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor


Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Ladies and gentlemen, it's good to be Mark Taffet.

The HBO boxing kingmaker -- though, to be exact, the title on his business card reads "senior vice president of sports operations and pay-per-view" -- is happily riding herd over an ongoing renaissance that's recently translated into positive numbers for the network's three fight-related franchises.

Already fresh off a month that featured Campbell-Diaz and Peter-Maskaev on "World Championship Boxing," Casamayor-Katsidis on "Boxing After Dark" and Pacquiao-Marquez II on HBO PPV, the native of Orange, New Jersey, has even bigger things on his agenda for April and early May.

The network will feature a Miguel Cotto title defense alongside Cintron- Margarito II from Atlantic City on April 12, Hopkins-Calzaghe from Las Vegas one week later and the return of preeminent in-ring cash cow Oscar De La Hoya against Steve Forbes from suburban Los Angeles on May 3.

All, to hear Taffet tell it, as it should be.

"Through the past 18 months there has been a very conscious effort by everyone in any position of responsibility in the sport to do everything possible to keep it on top and restore it to its rightful place in the sports world," he said in a Tuesday phone interview.

"TV executives, boxers, promoters, they all made the commitment. There was no specific incident that caused it. It was a confluence of factors that made us all realize, though we weren't taking for granted the position of our sport, things were out of equilibrium."

HBO will return to the pay-per-view business May 31 when it airs Mosley-Judah, a fight Taffet readily admitted would have been slotted for "regular" HBO were it not for the aforementioned series of high-end bouts already on the "World Championship Boxing" schedule over the next four weeks.

"We'd made the commitments to the bouts in April and May, and with the lineup we have on the 12th, 19th and 3rd, there was no room," he said.

The network's last PPV show -- the Pacquiao-Marquez rematch on March 15 -- logged some 525,000 buys, making it the highest-grossing bout in history at or below 135 pounds.

Meanwhile, including pay-per-view worthy events like Hopkins-Calzaghe and De La Hoya-Forbes on the non-PPV arm is, Taffet said, part of a concerted effort to maintain the "biggest and best possible schedule for our monthly subscribers. Admittedly, at times, that's more in or out of balance than at others.


Mark Taffet has big things on his agenda for April and early May.
"We have a multiplex theater with 'World Championship Boxing,' 'Boxing After Dark' and HBO pay-per-view, and those three platforms provide anywhere from 25 to 35 live fights each year for us. Our goal is to maintain vibrant platforms across the board and on pay-per-view. That can only help our long-term health."

Though never truly near extinction, the sport's long-term prospects had been called into question by many as recently as 2006, during a period Taffet referred to as "lethargy."

Things began to turn for the better in January 2007, he said, starting with the official announcement during Super Bowl week for the De La Hoya-Mayweather bout -- which went on in May to become the highest-grossing pay-per-view event in the sport's history, generating more than 2.4 million buys and more than $135 million in pay-per-view revenue.

The two are scheduled for a rematch in September.

"The catalyst for the resurgence of 2007 and 2008 in the sport of boxing was the De La Hoya-Mayweather fight," Taffet said. "It began a string of fights where the best fought the best month after month after month.

"Everyone felt so good about that fight, and it felt so good to be a part of the sport where an event that big was taking place, that it became the catalyst and the motivator for the string of fights that followed and continue throughout 2008."

The current glut of talent in and around the lightweight, welterweight and middleweight/super middleweight/light heavyweight divisions figures to prolong the string, according to Taffet, creating veritable round-robin tournaments involving the best three or four in each weight class.

Fights with Roy Jones Jr., Winky Wright, Kelly Pavlik or Jermain Taylor could await the winner of the Hopkins-Calzaghe get-together at 175 pounds, while Mayweather, De La Hoya, Cotto, Cintron, Margarito, Mosley and Judah seem likely to trigger new matchups at 147 in the coming months as well.

And at 135 pounds, 30-something veterans Campbell and Casamayor have thrust themselves back into the spotlight and within range of potential high-profile bouts with Pacquiao, Marquez and recently deposed unified champion Juan Diaz.

"Whatever the reason, the prevailing mindset used to be that, in a big fight, the winner won big and the loser lost big, but that was an obstacle to promoters continuing to make big fights," he said.

"The last few years, the guys who don't win in the big fights are still able to get right back in line because the quality of the fights have been so high.

"You can see an endless series over the next 12-18 months involving some of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world. The quality is there, and the desire to keep putting guys together to make the best fights is higher than it's been in years."

All of which makes the morning commute to New York just a little easier to take.

"It's really not work," he said. "You come in and you have to pinch yourself because you're really doing something that you love doing. To see everything falling into place and to have every piston hitting the way it is these days, it's very rewarding."

* * * * * * *
A dizzying road trip covering two continents, two off-shore island nations and 12,839 miles awaits anyone hoping to take in all four of the weekend's major world title fights.
On Saturday, in the Canadian gambling town of Rama, Ontario, unbeaten local favorite Steve Molitor risks his IBF junior featherweight title for the fourth time at Casino Rama against No. 1 challenger Fernando Beltran Jr.

Molitor, who's successfully defended the belt against Takalani Ndlovu (TKO 9), Fahsan 3K Battery (UD 12) and Ricardo Castillo (UD 12) since winning it against Michael Hunter just 17 months ago, is 26-0 with 10 knockouts.

Beltran dropped a 12-round decision to Joan Guzman in a try for the WBO's 122- pound crown in 2005 and is 6-1 with one no-contest in eight fights since. He defeated Jose Arboleda by 10th-round stoppage in an IBF title eliminator in December, improving to 30-2-1 with 18 knockouts.

Next, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, undefeated 33-year-old incumbent Ivan Calderon defends his WBO junior flyweight championship against No. 9 contender and fellow Puerto Rico product Nelson Dieppa at Coliseo Roberto Clemente.

Calderon held the WBO's title at 105 pounds for four years before moving up to take the 108-pound laurels from Hugo Fidel Cazares by 12-round split decision last August. He's subsequently defended once, defeating Juan Esquer by unanimous verdict in December to move to 30-0 overall.

Now 37, Dieppa won and subsequently defended the WBO title five times between 2001 and 2005 before losing it to Cazares on a 10th-round technical decision. He lost by TKO in a rematch a year later and is 1-1 in two fights since, leaving him 25-4-2 with 14 knockouts.

Third, WBA middleweight champion Felix Sturm makes the third defense of his third world title reign when he faces unbeaten 12th-ranked challenger Jamie Pittman at Burg-Waechter Castello in Dusseldorf, Germany.

Sturm, perhaps best known for a dubious loss to De La Hoya that cost him the WBO title in 2004, has since worn the WBA's belt twice, winning it from Maselino Masoe in 2006 and regaining it following a loss to Javier Castillejo in 2007.

He's risked it twice since, beating Noe Tulio Gonzalez Alcoba by 12-round decision in June and fighting to a split-decision draw over 12 rounds with Randy Griffin in October. He is 28-2-1 with 12 knockouts.

Pittman, who turned pro in November 2004, improved to 16-0 with a 12-round shutout over Andreas Seran in November in Australia.

The 26-year-old southpaw has never fought outside his native country.

And finally, on Sunday, Gerry Penalosa closes out the weekend with the first defense of his WBO bantamweight title, against No. 1-ranked Thai veteran Ratanachai Sor Vorapin at the Araneta Coliseum in the Filipino capital of Manila.

Penalosa, now 35, won the crown with a surprise seventh-round stoppage of Jhonny Gonzalez last August in Sacramento, California. He'd previously held the WBC's super flyweight title, but had gone 0-4 in major world title fights since losing the belt to In-Joo Cho in 1998.

He is 52-6-2 with 35 knockouts.

Vorapin, a veteran of 81 professional fights -- 72-9, 48 KOs -- is 7-0 since falling in seven rounds to Gonzalez to lose the WBO title in October 2005.

He'd won the crown in 2004 and defended it once following unsuccessful tries for the IBF's super flyweight and bantamweight titles in 1999 and 2001, respectively.

Vorapin and Penalosa met for the WBC's international super flyweight title in 2000, with Penalosa winning by sixth-round TKO.

Lyle Fitzsimmons is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He is a periodic contributor to the Dave Smith Show on Sporting News Radio (radio.sportingnews.com), provides 'In The Ring' boxing commentary for Speeding Bullet Network (speedingbulletnetwork.com) and can be contacted via e-mail at fitzbitz@msn.com.

Jabs, hooks or knockouts, Lyle Fitzsimmons can be reached at fitzbitz@msn.com.

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