Muhammad Ali fought well past his prime until the age of 39, but boxing’s all-time great was a sad shadow of himself by then, closing his illustrious career by losing three out of his last four fights.
His daughter Laila Ali (24-0, 21 KOs) closed the curtains on an undefeated career at the crisp age of 30, but in the last couple of months, the 43-year-old is entertaining the idea of a comeback against Claressa Shields (10-0, 2 KOs).
Mark Taffet knows a thing or two about big fights. Taffet is currently the manager of Shields, but until 2015, he was HBO’s senior vice president of sports operations and PPV. Taffet essentially created the PPV model for boxing in 1991, overseeing more than 190 HBO PPV events that generated 65 million buys and $3.6 billion in revenue in 25 years.
Taffet thinks a fight between Shields, a three-division champion and two-time US gold medalist, and Ali would be a groundbreaking and lucrative fight for women.
“It can not only be one of the biggest female PPV fights, but I can make it one of the biggest PPV fights — period. Hopefully they step up,” Taffet told BoxingScene.com in an interview. “Claressa has the confidence and she wants to step up to the plate and be a game changer. Laila can do the same. I hope she and her team engage in significant conversations. We would love to bring that fight to the public. They will make more money than they ever dreamed of.. I will marshal every single resource to make sure we get the best revenue.”
Taffet believes a solid six-month training schedule should allow for Ali, a married mother of two, to get back into fighting shape.
“We wouldn’t want her in the ring if she was not at her best, mentally and physically. That takes time. We can make sure the best version of Laili Ali fights so that the public knows it's getting the best fight possible,” said Taffet. “If marketed and publicized appropriately, it would make it a significant event. If Laila steps up, I can make that deal in a day. All we need are willing participants on the other side. Ali has to walk it, not talk about it. If they will, I will take them on a journey they will never regret.”
Ali previously headlined a PPV in 2001 with Joe Frazier’s daughter, Jacqui Frazier-Lyde. Ali’s majority decision win generated 100,000 buys. Taffet is envisioning many multiples more than that.
Taffet added that Ali’s businesses, which include a lifestyle brand and nutritional products, would grow as a result of her being back into the boxing limelight.
“It’s a big commitment to come back,” said Taffet. “We recognize that. I understand and respect that greatly. It’s hard to say if a fight can get done. I hope Laila believes in herself the same way we do in ourselves. When the best fight the best, there are no losers. The public loves it.”
Manouk Akopyan is a sports journalist and member of the Boxing Writers Assn. of America since 2011. He has written for the likes of the LA Times, Guardian, USA Today, Philadelphia Inquirer, Men’s Health and NFL.com and currently does TV commentary for combat sports programming that airs on Fox Sports and hosts his own radio show in Los Angeles. He can be reached on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube at @ManoukAkopyan or via email at manouk[dot]akopyan[at]gmail.com.