If pay-per-view telecasts are the engine that drives boxing, then, the sport has to find new stars to fuel an engine that has been slowing down recently. As senior vice-president of sports operations and pay-per-view for HBO, it's Mark Taffet's job to do what he can to build and then market those attractions.
That's what Gennady Golovkin's defense of his WBA and IBO middleweight title against Daniel Geale Saturday night at Madison Square Garden was all about, and that will be the challenge Taffet faces a month from now when he must begin selling Long Island's Chris Algieri as a credible PPV opponent for WBO welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao on Nov. 22 in Macau, China.
In Golovkin's case, Taffet is reluctant to concede it, but HBO needs to develop a successor to Pacquiao who is capable of driving PPV numbers. Golovkin's move to the main arena at MSG, which was scaled down to a capacity of more than 9,000, was the next step in determining whether the power-punching Golovkin can break through to attract a wider audience.
Of course, it was up to Golovkin to handle the boxing end of the equation against Geale. Tom Loeffler, Golovkin's promoter, said HBO "absolutely" can play a major role in moving his fighter toward a middleweight unification bout with WBC champion Miguel Cotto in the future.
Taffet said it's up to promoters to make fights, but he added that he expects Golovkin's time to come as a PPV attraction. "Gennady's viewership on HBO has risen like a meteor over the last few years," Taffet said. "It told us the public is engaged whenever he steps into the ring. We're thrilled to see people come to MSG and to see a major market show support for him.
"At the right time with the right fight, I'm sure Gennady will appear on pay-per-view, and the fans will welcome him. When it's time, we'll be there."
The time is now for Algieri, who upset Ruslan Provodnikov on June 14 to win the WBO junior welterweight title and position himself to move up to 147 pounds for a shot at Pacquiao. Taffet met with Algieri and promoter Joe DeGuardia last Monday and came away with a clear idea of how to interest the public in the relative unknown from Huntington. "Chris deserves to have his story told, and he deserves to tell his story," Taffet said. "He's a great young man trying to fulfill an American dream. He comes from generations of an Italian-American family that has worked hard. He works as hard as his father and his grandfather have worked since they stepped on the soil of this country.
"Chris has great character, and he showed against Ruslan Provodnikov that he's capable of taking a very good fighter and a very strong fighter out of his game.
Algieri, who holds a bachelor's degree from Stony Brook and a master's from NYIT, has impressive verbal skills and confidence in his ability to compete with a veteran like Pacquiao. With a smile, Taffet said, "I had lunch with Chris the other day, and three hours after I sat down, I was still sitting and listening to him. There's no shortage of words, no shortage of intelligence and there's no shortage of true character built on many generations of family background."
To most in the boxing world, Algieri is the longest of long shots because he's had only 20 pro fights and is more boxer than puncher. But Taffet said, "I was at HBO in 1990 when Buster Douglas went to Tokyo and came home with the heavyweight title [after knocking out Mike Tyson]. You know that, with Chris's background, he will do everything a fighter needs to do to be ready for the biggest opportunity of his life. The rest will unfold in the ring."