Promoter Ben Shalom has spoken about the speculation that Sky Sports were preparing to pull out of boxing, and says it could not be further from the truth.
Shalom and Boxxer are the exclusive promoters for boxing on Sky Sports, and recently the enticing light-heavyweight clash between Dan Azeez and Joshua Buatsi fell out at the last minute, with Azeez injured in his last training session.
“It was such a shocking moment to hear,” said Shalom. “I will probably look back on this year how I look back on my first year when I started [in boxing]. We’ve had four or five main events go through injury, we’ve had two pay-per-views, Taylor-Catterall and Eubank-Smith I [cancelled and postponed], we’ve had [injuries to] Adam Azim, Ben Whittaker, who is probably our biggest star coming through alongside Adam Azim, that for that to happen, it was crazy. But I learnt a lot about my team that week, because to turn around what they did in 24-48 hours, to manage to put on a show, to get the fighters work, and that fight will be announced soon.”
The show went on, with the remainder of the bill heading to Bethnal Green as opposed to the O2, where Shalom said 10,000 tickets had been sold.
While Boxxer made the best of a bad hand, Shalom admits that was he is trying to achieve is a process, that takes time, investment and the right fighters.
“I’m a boxing fan as well,” he continued. “When you turn on the boxing, you want the best fights and you want the best fighters and I think when you start without any stable whatsoever it’s always going to take time, whether it’s the Olympians developing, whether it’s the fighters you’re signing developing or developing them into world champions, we’ve only just had our first male world champions in Lawrence Okolie and Chris Billam-Smith, that’s taken time. Look at Chris Billam-Smith’s journey. I feel that we have a stable we are very proud of, we have fighters that are ready for that big moment in their career. We’re getting toward that point, but the 12, 18 months, two years when you’re essentially building a stable from scratch is always going to be challenging and you’re always going to have to take a long-term view.”
The speculation about Sky’s involvement came at a time when boxing fans had seen Showtime follow HBO out of the boxing business, and either some put two and two together or wondered whether Sky would be the next giant to leave.
“I don’t know where it came from, I think it was taken completely out of context,” Shalom added. “When Matchroom left [Sky], they’d had 10 years building up all those fighters.
“Imagine the devastation when all those fighters leave your platform. You’ve spent so much money, invested so much time… Sky have been in boxing the longest out of any broadcaster and have actually been holding up British boxing for a long time. At that point, when Eddie [Hearn] left, there will have been conversations because they had been left with relatively nothing. We’ve spent the last two years from absolute scratch, no stable whatsoever, with Sky as well, to try and revitalise boxing on Sky Sports. That’s a long-term vision, that’s a long-term project. That’s something we’ve all spent money on.”
Shalom has also agreed a deal with NBC to show Boxxer bills under the Comcast banner. He remains optimistic, and a new date for Azeez-Buatsi is on tap, and could be imminent.
“We’ve just done a huge deal with NBC, also under the Comcast banner, so their commitment to boxing couldn’t be any stronger or any more evident, but I agree, at the time when Matchroom left and it was this huge, rights deal with DAZN, which I think was the biggest rights deal we’ve ever seen in British boxing in terms of value, in terms of money, at that point it was a very difficult moment for Sky,” Shalom admitted. “We would like to think that we have revitalised boxing on Sky for the long-term at a time when at that point I’m sure there were conversations [that it might pull away from the sport].”