Ben Shalom knows what you’re thinking. “Where’s this guy come from? Where the f*** has he come from?”
It is the same question that arises for fans when they come across the 28-year-old’s company, Boxxer, which has emerged as one of the leading promotions in boxing since its inception as Ultimate Boxxer in 2018.
Back then, Shalom was just 23, the youngest licensed promoter in Britain. So, where did this guy come from?
Where the f*** did he come from?
The Mancunian recalls Amir Khan’s outings at the 2004 Athens Olympics as having generated his first memories of boxing, before the “ITV nights” that followed by Khan deepened Shalom’s intrigue in the sport. They were about that drew “seven or eight million viewers”, and though Shalom, the 11-year-old boxing fan, could probably not recount those figures at the time, it is telling that Shalom, the 28-year-old boxing promoter , does so now. Ricky Hatton vs. Floyd Mayweather in 2007 and David Haye vs. Nikolai Valuev in 2009 were also impactful for Shalom, the latter fight leaving him “obsessed” with the sport.
The entrepreneurial spirit that would give life to Boxxer first shone at university, where Shalom studied law but was “always trying to find a way not to do law”. He would organize club nights and concerts and sell fast food, and that proclivity for business later combined with boxing in part due to Shalom’s friendships back in Manchester. There, a number of his friends boxed him – some professionally.
shalom tells The Independent that his desire to step into the business side of the sport came from “really seeing how much the fighters put into it, but how little there was for them in terms of reward. It became obvious to me that the sport was so difficult, so cruel. It’s not like tennis where the best play the best and the rise to the top is meritocratic, it’s not like there’s any sort of infrastructure unless you’re in the top one per cent.
“Seeing the way events were put on, how sponsors and broadcasters didn’t really want to get involved… I could never really understand it, because for me it was the most admirable profession or sport that you could ever go into. But it had this sort of ‘dirty’ tag, and events felt intimidating. I wanted to get into the business so it was more reflective of the fighters.”
Shalom borrowed £10,000 to obtain his boxing promoter’s license, but money will only get you so far in a business that also deals in respect. With the task of having to win over the relevant authorities and personalities at 23, Shalom credits his “work ethic” and “being genuine, consistent and committed” for his success.
“When you look back at it,” he says, “the naivete was good, because if I knew what I knew now, maybe it would have been more difficult to embark on that journey. But I was incredibly passionate, and I think a lot of the boxing fraternity were glad at that point that young people were coming into the sport; there’s not many that actually want to work in boxing. It’s been the same promoters for 40, 50 years – the same families. If you’re brave enough and are coming in with good intentions and a different way of looking at things… Luckily the board recognized that and licensed me – maybe prematurely, I don’t know.”
It is one thing to want to effect change, however, and another to actually do it.
“I think you do it by putting on events that anyone will enjoy coming to – men, women, anyone,” Shalom suggests. “Making sure that it’s accessible, the pricing’s at a point where people can afford to go, the way it’s presented and the way you run your operation is transparent, so brands and broadcasters want to come into the sport. Also, it’s important to try to break down barriers like these long-winded undercards, the belt system, judging, regulation. If we can achieve that bit by bit, that’s when we’ll create a much better environment.”
Boxxer would host tournaments because it was not in a position to sign fighters, its shows just about breaking even thanks to ticket sales and sponsor funding. The promotion’s first TV deal was with Channel 5’s 5Spike, before Boxxer landed a huge deal with Sky Sports last June, drastically improving its funding, ability to sign fighters and put on events.
Now Boxxer’s roster boasts the likes of Joseph Parker, Savannah Marshall, Claressa Shields and Liam Smith, as well as 2020 Team GB Olympians Frazer Clarke and Ben Whittaker among others. The promotion is focused on “diverse signings”, with Shalom playing a key role due to the advantage of being a similar age to the fighters, while Sky’s head of boxing Adam Smith is also involved – as is John Wischhusen, who previously spent 26 years at rival promotion Matchroom.
A leaked clip recently surfaced on Twitter, showing Shalom telling an interviewer – before the interview had officially begun – not to ask questions about Matchroom. The 28-year-old received criticism and support in equal measure after the clip had circulated, but he says now: “I don’t think I need to slag off other promoters. In what other sport would you have business owners just going at each other all the time?
“I do think it’s funny, and I actually enjoy it, but we’ve got such a job on our hands. Sometimes it’s just a soap opera. To be a great promoter… Look, a lot of attention comes with it, but I don’t think there’s a prerequisite that I need to be famous or a celebrity; I think we need to do the best job by our fighters.”
It is a cause to which Shalom is committed with singular focus.
“There was massive sacrifice,” he stresses. “I sacrificed all my 20s – not going out, not doing things that a normal person would at my age. If you want to do great things and believe in what you’re doing, you’ll sacrifice everything; I sacrificed absolutely everything, but I don’t see it like that, because I’m doing what I love. This is a dream come true.
“I’m young, the other promoters are a lot older than me, I have more energy than ever. Working in boxing is amazing, because when you’re working with boxers, it doesn’t matter how stressed you are or how tough it is for you; it’s always harder for them, so you get so much energy off that. We have a massive responsibility to the sport. I’m not thinking anywhere near about the end; we’re very much at the start of our journey.”