Former HBO Sports executive Mark Taffet, a key figure in the creation of boxing’s pay-per-view model, will launch a new, team-based mixed martial arts league in July. MMA Pro League will host its inaugural event on July 20, inside Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City. The new promotion will host five events at the same venue in 2018 before introducing an ambitious, eight-team concept in 2019.

“We’re launching the league in two phases,” Taffet told ESPN. “Phase one is the period between now and the end of 2018, in which we will form the teams and roll them out one-by-one, so we can spend time with each city and develop a connection between fans and athletes. “In 2019, we will have a full regular season and playoffs. Four teams from the East and West. The Eastern division champion will face the Western division champion in the finals.”

Taffet, who left HBO in 2015 following a 25-year run, will serve as the league’s president. Hani Darwish, a longtime MMA promoter out of the northeast, is the CEO. Taffet declined to reveal the league’s private financiers.

The July 20 event, which currently does not include a broadcast plan, will feature teams from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Former UFC fighter Dan Miler will coach opposite Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner Daniel Gracie. According to Taffet, the league expects to set up teams in New York, Florida, Texas and California, among other locations. Teams will consist of 12 athletes — 10 males, two females — across six weight divisions. Prior to the inaugural season, the MMA Pro League will hold tryouts for potential athletes, followed by a full-scale draft process. The payment structure is to include individual fight purses, a monthly stipend and potential bonuses based on results and league revenue.

According to Darwish, each region will have a designated training center open to the public. “When we launch our first full season, every team will have a home venue in their home market, and they will be playing both home and away matches. There will be a full draft and also a tryout, city-by-city, for the final two slots on each team, which will create a lot of interest and excitement on the local level. It’s important for us to get deep into the roots of the community and establish the same feelings fans have for professional basketball, baseball, football and hockey teams.”

Taffet and Darwish did not comment on whether athletes will be treated as employees or independent contractors. The initial 2018 phase includes events on July 20, Aug. 17, Sept. 15, Oct. 12 and Nov. 10.

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