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Tuesday, February 28, 2023

The Promoters' Screwjob: Behind the Scenes of Shawn Sarembock's Last Fight

Boxing can be a dirty game. Shawn Sarembock found that out first hand before and during his last fight, which resulted in a majority draw. He recently revealed to The Jewish Boxing Blog just how promoters attempted to sabotage his career.

Sarembock and his dad Neil had a good relationship with a local Mexican promotional firm that gave them fight dates and found opponents for Shawn in exchange for a fee. A couple of weeks before this last fight, the company offered Shawn a contract, but he "politely refused" because he wanted to keep his options open. Sarembock said, "They must have taken it personally when I turned down their offer because that's when the problems started."


The Jewish Boxing Blog has decided not to name the promotional company, the location of the fight, or the opponent in this article because of the real possibility of retribution against Sarembock for speaking out. The promoters, who have a close relationship with the local commission, could still have the result of the fight changed. [For certain details about Sarembock's last fight view The JBB's recap or his BoxRec page.]

Retroactively changing a result out of spite has precedent. It's exactly what Israeli flyweight Mor Oknin says happened to him a year ago. He claims he won a fight by fourth round TKO in a locale in Mexico near where Sarembock fought, but Oknin's BoxRec page lists the result as a third round TKO loss. "I'm very sad about this. It's all about politics," Oknin told The JBB last fall. He added, "They cheated me out of money there."

BoxRec simply reports the results provided by the commissions. An editor at the self-described "official record keeper of the sport of boxing" told The JBB that BoxRec has "lots of problems with wrong reports" coming out out of many countries, including Mexico.


The trouble for Sarembock started immediately after his refusal. "Three or four opponents fell through," he said, "which never happened before." While multiple opponents do occasionally back out of fights, the promoters' actions allegedly became more nefarious with time. They claimed other fighters had missed their flights, and they needed to deduct that money from Sarembock's pay. "They squeezed us out of money," Shawn said.

On the day of the fight, Neil was told he was not allowed to work his son's corner. Shawn and Neil's relationship is such that it would be like telling a fighter pilot he wasn't allowed to wear his prescription aviator glasses into battle. Instead, the promotional company, which has its own gym and its own trainers, provided the cornermen at the last moment.

"We had watched footage of the opponent and we had a game plan," Shawn said. "The first two rounds, I was going to box because we noticed he lunged in when he came forward. The plan was to take little half steps back and counter, especially with uppercuts." After two, assuming the opponent remained standing, Neil would add his expert input, and Shawn would adjust accordingly. But without Neil in the corner, the game plan quickly went out the window.


The fight had been scheduled for 7pm local time. It was to be the second fight of the night. Shawn and Neil, who would still help wrap his son's hands, took the hotel's elevator down at 5:30pm. One of the promoters met them when they reached the ground floor and told them the card had been delayed two hours. Shawn's fight was now the opener because one of the fighters scheduled for the first bout had been in a car accident. So the Sarembocks went back to their hotel room for an hour since Shawn was now scheduled to open the card. He posted the two-hour delay as an Instagram story, not knowing it was all a lie.

When they came back down the elevator at 6:30, the stands were full and live banda music blared. They knew something was up. There were too many people in the crowd for an 8pm start. By the time Neil had wrapped only one of Shawn's hands a member of the local commission burst into the locker room to say Shawn had ten minutes to get ready.

A boxer's preparation in the moments before a fight is crucial to their success in the ring. Shawn says he typically needs a minimum of an hour to prepare. "It's not just getting physically ready. Getting mentally prepared for battle is even more important."

Shawn recounted what happened next, "The commission came in five times and began yelling, 'Get your ass out!' The ref even came back and threatened, 'If you don't come out in ten minutes, you're off the card.'"


Hands wrapped and his Winning gloves on, Shawn had been warming up for five minutes when he was notified it was time to make his ring walk or he'd be pulled out of the fight. He told officials that he needed to use the bathroom, but they didn't allow it. He hadn't yet stretched, which of course put him at an increased risk for injury, nor had he worked up a sweat. It's essential for boxers to warmup properly before a fight because it's far more likely for them to get knocked out early if they start the fight "cold."

Shawn admits that he should have tried to ignore the commotion, but he let it get to him. After a slow start in the ring, Sarembock received poor guidance in the corner. "The corner is a vital part of a fight," he said. "I want calm and control in the corner. Take a deep breath and then it's time for strategy. Instead, I was coming back to a corner in panic mode." After every round, the promoters' handpicked cornermen kept telling Shawn he was losing. They wanted him to throw five-punch combinations, which would have opened him up for the opponent's dangerous left hook.

"Mentally, it was hard to put everything aside," Sarembock said. "I never even got ready. I got through the fight because of grit." Despite everything he endured, one judge agreed with The JBB and scored the bout for Sarembock 58-56. But the two other judges had it 57-57 for a majority draw. "It was the worst performance of my career," Shawn said. "Absolutely terrible." Sarembock's record of 8-0-1 (8 KOs) now carries a blemish.

And the fighter who was supposed to be in the opener, but had apparently been in a car accident so Sarembock had to open the show? He fought in the second bout of the night.


Shawn called the ordeal "a huge learning experience." It was really his first chance to see "the dirty politics, the dirty business side" of boxing up close. But his primary lesson from his experience was more practical. "I'm never fighting without my dad in my corner again," he declared.

After a week off, the Sarembocks are back in training. The plan is to move up to an eight-rounder, a fight somewhere closer to home for the still undefeated resident of Phoenix, Arizona. "I've accepted what happened," said Shawn, "and now it's time to move on." The dream of a world championship remains though the path to achieve it is never linear. It's often filled with pitfalls and screwjobs.

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