British boxing promotion, BOXXER, has reached a media rights partnership with NBC, giving American audiences the chance to see fight cards that air exclusively on Sky Sports in the UK and Ireland.
For starters: First- and second-ranked light heavyweights Joshua Buatsi and Dan Azeez will square off from London’s O2 Arena on Saturday.
‘You look back at Prince Naseem, Amir Khan – and Tyson Fury in recent history – and how well they’ve done in the US, that was always in the back of my mind: I want US audiences to be able to see these kids, to see our stable and see these guys from [a young age],’ BOXXER Founder and CEO Ben Shalom told Mail Sport.
‘And NBC is the perfect platform because in a similar way to Sky, their rights portfolio is massive – one of our main goals is to make boxing as mainstream and inclusive and as easy to access as possible and when you consider [they have] the Premier League, the WWE, the Olympics, for boxing… you couldn’t get a better partner.’
Initially, BOXXER’s fights on NBC platforms will be based in the UK, but Shalom hopes to broaden his promotion’s reach.
Adam Azim celebrates win over Santos Reyes with BOXXER promoter Ben Shalom (left)
Ema Kozin (l) faces her opponent Claressa Shields with Ben Shalom (C) and Dmitry Salita
Ultimately, he told Mail Sport, he’d like to do the kinds of events that will attract major audiences on both sides of the Atlantic.
‘But obviously the goal of both businesses is to be able to develop that and look at opportunities and over time – once we develop our partnership – to bring shows to the US and possibly one day have the first trans-Atlantic pay-per-views across platforms,’ he said. ‘That’s the vision, that’s the goal.’
As many American fight fans already know, the timing couldn’t be better.
Following HBO’s retreat from the sport, and Showtime’s plans to follow, there are hardly any media platforms offering much air time to boxing in the US these days.
‘Particularly when you see the US in a state of flux – with boxing potentially coming off platforms [Showtime], it’s brilliant to have a big broadcaster now taking boxing back on,’ Shalom told Mail Sport.
Caroline Dubois and BOXXER’s Ben Shalom
‘I view it as a market of such untapped potential. Boxing is one of those sports that’s always going through peaks and troughs but it’s a sport without language barriers, it’s a sport that everyone understands and when it’s big, it’s very big. It is in a state of flux at the moment, the US market… but we’ve had the best schedule we’ve seen in years from PBC and Top Rank are brilliant too. There’s so much room for growth… the key is getting boxing in front of mainstream audiences.’
Shalom believes he has the right talents to attract American viewers, including 26-year-old light heavyweight Ben Whittaker, 21-year-old junior welterweight Adam Azim, and 22-year-old Super bantamweight Caroline Dubois – all Brits.
In Dubois’ case, Shalom is hopeful that the Londoner can follow in the footsteps of American boxing sensation Claressa Shields.
‘I think she’s the type of personality and star – especially at 22 years old – where she’ll really benefit from it,’ Shalom said.
Azim, meanwhile, is positioned well to succeed in the US because of all of the American talent around 140 pounds.
Boxers Rachel Bower, Caroline Dubois, Fran Hennessy and BOXXER CEO Ben Shalom
‘What a division he’s in, with the big American stars over there, it’s good to get his name out there,’ Shalom said of the 4-0 Olympic silver medalist. ‘There’s huge names and huge fights for him down the line, with the Americans in particular so it’s great to be able to get him (there) early on in his career.’
To Shalom, the key is to get Azim exposure now, when he’s still young: ‘For a long time, British fighters got their US exposure towards the tail end of their careers.’
Most importantly, by bringing his bouts to the US, Shalom hopes to see the sport rise in popularity, internationally.
‘It’s the biggest market in the world,’ Shalom said of the US, ‘and it needs to be doing well for boxing to be doing well.’