Celebrating diversity, investing in young fighters and shifting away from “the murky business side of boxing”, Boxxer CEO and founder Ben Shalom is on a mission to change the sport.
The 27-year-old is the youngest licensed promoter in British boxing and, along with Top Rank in America, signed an exclusive deal to broadcast fights on Sky Sports earlier this year.
On Saturday night at Wembley Arena, the Boxxer journey continues with an event headlined by undefeated British cruiserweight contender Richard Riakporhe facing Nigeria’s former world-title challenger Olanrewaju Durodola.
The card will also feature the return of super-featherweight Natasha Jonas, popular Albania-born welterweight Florian Marku and highly rated prospect Adam Azim.
Speaking to BBC Sport, Shalom looks ahead to a “fight night which has a bit of everything,” discusses what makes him so relatable to the next generation of fighters and outlines his plans to evolve the sport.
‘The same guys have been running boxing since the 80s’
Matchroom Boxing’s Eddie Hearn and Queensbury Promotion’s Frank Warren are arguably the two leading promoters in British boxing, while Top Rank’s Bob Arum, 89, has been putting on bouts since 1966.
Although Shalom may lack the years of experience and public profile in comparison to the well-established promoters, he believes youthfulness could play into his hands.
“Boxing is a strange sport, it’s been the same guys running it in both the UK and US since the 80s,” he says.
“All good things need to evolve and boxing is no different. I’ve been working in boxing for the past four years and done every job within the industry.”
Manchester-born Shalom linked up with Sky after the broadcaster parted ways with Matchroom in June.
“For a long time, boxing has been seen for the business side of things, a bit murky, and we’re passionate about changing that,” Shalom adds.
“I’ve grown up with a lot of these younger fighters. I understand what they want and how they think. I am more relatable to these guys and that is important in this sport.”
Signing young talent & championing diversity
The signing of Olympian Caroline Dubois, who was set to make her professional debut on Saturday before pulling out through illness, demonstrates Boxxer’s approach to developing the next generation.
Shalom describes the 20-year-old as “the future face of boxing” having beaten rival promoters to her signature. But while investing in young talent is an important part of Boxxer’s ethos, he is also looking to showcase top-level fighters.
“Yes, there is a concerted effort to invest in grassroots and the next generation, but the big fights will also happen on our platform,” he says.
America’s unified middleweight champion Claressa Shields and Britain’s WBO belt-holder Savannah Marshall are both part of the Boxxer roster, alongside men’s middleweight contender Chris Eubank Jr.
Shalom is particularly excited by the Boxxer debut of 19-year-old lightweight Azim who will be making his second outing in the professional ranks.
“Adam has Shane McGuigan in the corner who says he is the best fighter he has ever trained,” Shalom added.
“Shane has previously looked after Luke Campbell and Josh Taylor, and now Lawrence Okolie and Daniel Dubois, so that’s saying something.”
Azim’s brother Hassan, 20, will also feature on the card. Both fighters are of Pakistani heritage and are expected to bring a large South Asian following to Wembley from their hometown Slough.
Shalom says championing diversity in boxing and “breaking down barriers” is something about which he is passionate.
“Boxing is one of the most beautiful sports for diversity – there’s no language barrier and it’s understood in all corners of the world,” he adds.
“We want to make this a sport to be proud of, with fighters who will help bring more diversity into other sports.”
Riakporhe’s time to shine
Shalom describes Saturday’s fight night as “one for the trade” with undefeated Riakporhe making his second appearance in two years.
The 31-year-old has won all 12 of his professional bouts with eight coming inside the distance, but Shalom believes the experienced Durodola, 41, will provide a stern test for the Londoner.
“Richard has dealt with his domestic competition without very little boxing experience and now he’s stepping up to fight a guy who has been around the block and fought for world titles,” Shalom added.
“Durodola is a contender who will take Richard to world-title level. We’ll have to see the best of him to come through.”
Liverpool’s Jonas returns to the ring with for the first time since a points loss to Ireland’s undisputed lightweight champion Katie Taylor in May.
The 37-year-old – who also challenged for the WBC super-featherweight title in 2020 when she drew with fellow Briton Terri Harper – will take on Lithuania’s Vaida Masiokaite.
Undefeated 29-year-old Marku will make his 10th professional appearance with a clash against Frenchman Jorick Luisetto.