“MY grandfather’s going to be 97-years old, he’s a Holocaust survivor. He’s still fully there mentally, but life’s short. I don’t know how many years he’ll have left, and my biggest dream was to be able to give him a world championship. That’s what I’m really doing this for.”
It all felt like a dream because, once upon a time, that’s all it was. As new, unified world champion, the Philippines’ Marlon Tapales’ name was read out in San Antonio, Texas, back on April 8, 2023, Shane Shapiro realised both a life’s ambition and a fork in his road. He’d set out almost a decade ago to work with – and help crown – boxing world champions from under privileged countries or unsuspecting backgrounds. Now, with his first co-promoted champion eventually under his belt, the plucky Law student spoke to Boxing News about pushing forward and forcing entry into boxing’s front room.
“A lot of things have changed,” he sighs in relief, sounding vindicated. “Marlon Tapales won the IBF and WBA titles, and now we’re just waiting on the winner of [Naoya] Inoue versus [Stephen] Fulton, and then we’re supposed to be fighting whoever wins for the undisputed title. Hopefully it’ll be Inoue and then we’ll fight in Japan, probably the usual New Year’s Eve, Tokyo dome fight. It’s just crazy. Marlon was my first world champion after 10 years of being in boxing. That was really something, it’s just changed the trajectory of my company.
“We came in as [huge] underdogs, we’d been waiting one year as the mandatory, we had two other fights just to keep busy. And Marlon was training for a year and a half just staying ready. We had to force them to honour it because they didn’t want to fight us. Eddie was talking at the press conference about how the winner of this fight is pretty much getting a lottery ticket for the undisputed. And all of them really thought MJ (Murodjon Akhmadaliev) was going to win, and we won. So, it’s been incredible, man; it’s been incredible just having that validity with me now.”
Shapiro isn’t your average boxing promoter. Or your average 30-year old American. He’s beaten a rare form of thyroid cancer at just 17 which struck him when the odds were approximately three million-to-one, ending his highly promising college baseball career, where he captained his team; he’s finishing his degree in Law (which he intends to point towards immigration in hopes of helping international fighters in the future). And he’s often travelling to parts of the world scouting fighters, venues or training camps in his spare time that others could only dream of, Venezuela, Colombia, the Philippines, to name a few.
Boxing has been a part of his life since his recovery from cancer in his late teens, yet only now has he started feel ‘accepted’ within the industry. For Shapiro, survival is key and it’s something he references when talking of his grandfather and his mother, who herself recovered and has been free from both skin and breast cancer. After being denied the chance to fulfil his promise in a different, less dangerous and frustrating sport, the young California-native turned to boxing, in an attempt to stay focused and channel his tenacious desire to succeed.
“I expect results. I come from that type of upbringing where success is just expected. And especially when I got into boxing at first, surviving cancer, not playing baseball anymore, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. I got into boxing when I was a just fan. I watched all the fights, but I had a friend that said, ‘Hey, could you help me? Could you manage me?’ And I had no idea what I was getting myself into…”
Shapiro continued, “Eventually, one thing led to another, I started working with another pro fighter, and then for six or seven years I was just doing the management, working with other fighters along the way, like Mason Menard, Mike Lee, these guys who were pretty close to winning world titles. And when we fought Devin Haney, when we fought Teofimo [with Mason Menard as his fighter at that time], those moments where the fights were for junior titles, I would always say to myself, ‘I can’t wait to win one of those junior titles and win one of those little belts.’ It’s funny, I’ve probably been in about seven or eight of those fights and never won. Never won, always came up short. I’m so blessed now that the fight that I end up winning is the one where I actually get two world title belts, and I think it was always meant to be that way.”
In Tapales, Shapiro had found the very definition of his prospective life’s work. The relatively unknown fighter from Tubod, Lanao del Norte in the country’s Northern region, had been toiling and staying warm within boxing’s smaller weight classes. He’d suffered setbacks, losing to Japan’s Ryosuke Iwasa in 2019, and had been fighting in small gymnasiums in the Philippines as recently as 2020. Tapales – much like his promoter and his friend, Shapiro – knew how to persevere. Now, he is on top of the world and set to earn his biggest fight purse at the close of the year.
“I think I was very naïve about it all,” admits Shapiro, “I thought it was going to be a lot easier than it is. When I talk to people and they find out that it took me 10 years to have my first world champion, some people are like, ‘Listen, it took me 30 or 40 years.’ And some people are like, ‘I haven’t even gotten one.’ That really puts it into perspective for me. People that would never take my phone calls before, or even talk to me or entertain fights are the same people now that are making fights with me. I think only people that are in the boxing world understand, it really is paying your dues. I think so many people come into boxing and they’re around for a couple years, and then they disappear. And I think that there’s only a few people that are able to weather the storm.”
In watching Shapiro pre- or post-fight, there’s no doubt his enthusiasm grows stronger with each year spent in the sport – uncommon for others who’ve tread his path. Now, you’ll catch him wearing a full suit, white shirt, and a colourful tie usually emblazoned with his fighter’s national flag or colours. He’s animated, caring and excitable. He’s still young, after all.
With the stunning, split-decision victory of Marlon Tapales, who toppled Matchroom Boxing’s defending belt-holder, Uzbekistan’s Akhmadaliev, to capture the latter’s titles back in April on a DAZN broadcast, Shapiro’s ambition has only grown stronger and more resolute. Where many would ease their foot from the accelerator and enjoy the fruits of their labour, the American is all gas, no brake.
His Cuban hope, Yoelvis Gomez, suffered a shock defeat to Marquis Taylor in recent weeks, derailing early form, but the stable remains full of promise. Fellow Cubans Lenier and Danier Pero continue taking steps towards the top of the heavyweight rankings, Colombian duo Dervin Rodriguez and Joniker Tovar remain undefeated, Jhack Tepora (another Filipino talent) and Oscar Escandon are chasing the pack at 140lbs after fighting one another, and Kevin Hayler Brown (who has beaten Andy Cruz as an amateur) looks set to conclude an impressive first year as a professional.
It’s non-stop at Shapiro Sports and the owner-slash-main character just can’t get enough. He admits the rigours of these responsibilities aren’t exactly compatible with the completion of his Law degree, though, which he’s expected to finish within the next two years. “It’s a struggle being a promoter that does everything themselves. Whether it means booking fights, booking flights, booking hotels, getting trunks done. I’m still doing all those things, and it is hard. It’s hard to balance those things, but I feel like I have a really good team in place with the partners and people I have on the ground. We have to make it happen.”
“I’m also planning on moving to Las Vegas full time in the next year or two myself,” Shapiro reveals, bemoaning the distance between his accommodation and his fighters, again reinforcing what is of primary importance. “California’s just impossible to live in. Vegas, when I go there, I know that’s where I’m supposed to be. So, I’m in a lot of transition between law school, and life, and boxing always is very fluid. So, it is tough. But I love it, man.”
There are striking similarities between the young Shapiro and another of boxing’s colourful manager-promoters, Sean Gibbons, famed for upsetting boxing odds with his international underdogs and appearing at the side of Manny Pacquiao. The colourful attire embraced by the pair, the flag-waving as their fighter’s hands are raised (a harmless version of the old Don King gimmick) and the fact they both share promotional responsibility for Marlon Tapales link them. The younger statesman was keen to pay homage to his ‘mentor,’ revealing Gibbons had attended Shapiro’s grandfather’s recent party and had helped unscrew some brackets from boxing’s doors before the 30-year-old kicked them off their hinges.
“Being the president of Manny Pacquiao Promotions, Sean sat me down and said to me, ‘Why are you in boxing? I’ve seen you seven or eight years now, what are you in boxing for?’ He’s a true boxing lifer. The guy only knows literally boxing. He was a fighter at one point, he was a matchmaker, he was driving guys all over. My relationship with Sean is one where he’s provided me with so much knowledge and first-hand experience, and he’s given me so many opportunities that I would never have without him. I’ve tried to be a sponge around him. He’s one of the smartest boxing minds I’ve ever been around. He’s just been an unbelievable role model.”
Despite devoting the last 10 years of his life to boxing in one guise or another, it’s clear that Shapiro understands the road ahead is long and beset with obstacles – this is boxing as we know it. He talks confidently about his aims and intentions, telling Boxing News what he’s determined to achieve with his merry band of unknown boxers. They’ll continue springing surprises and taking fights nobody really expects them to win, and Shane Shapiro will make everything else as easy as possible outside of the ring.
For every business savvy decision he makes, for every ruthless contract rejection or every fighter he turns away in their mutual best interest, he will be driven by survival. It’s something that’s ingrained in his family. His grandfather, David Weiner, whom he mentioned at the beginning of our conversation is 97-years old and still works daily. A holocaust survivor, he’s silently instilled an unshakeable refusal to surrender in his grandson. What would his grandfather do? How could he consider throwing the towel in? His mother, the very same, after her own battles with cancer. Shapiro himself has already beaten fearsome opponents and at least, as the manager and promoter, he doesn’t have to do the fighting this time. And his stable won’t fight alone.
“I want to be in a position where I’m one of the top promoters bringing over talent from other countries. My model now really is the international route. Combining my Law degree, I think I’m going to have an immigration Law firm set up. And I think you’ll see me involved promoting fighters, but also representing them in a legal aspect. What I’d like to set up is just a really select group of fighters, providing international visas, and also finding certain fighters and bringing them over here if they’re really special, handpicking guys. I think that I’ll keep expanding what we currently have, creating more world champions. But continuing to provide opportunities for other people in other countries.”