Who are Probellum? An in-depth look at the boxing promoters aiming to be 'biggest in the world' and why they are starting in Sunderland

Probellum. That word doesn’t mean anything to you, does it?

Thursday, 25th November 2021, 1:33 pm

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It didn’t for me and I’m a huge boxing fan.

I was extremely surprised when I received a fresh, shiny press release into my email inbox recently detailing live boxing in Sunderland.

Interesting… let’s have a look! Oh, the show includes Durham-born fighter Thomas Ward, who is on the verge of a super bantamweight world title shot. That’s big.

Country-Durham born Thomas Patrick Ward will feature on Probellum's December 18 card in Sunderland.

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Right, and Ricky Burns’ name is there. A three weight-world champion, he’s a Scottish and British boxing legend. Wow.

What? Lewis Ritson and Joe Laws, two massive Geordies, are also on the card?

They both sell tickets in huge numbers and have had some amazing nights in Newcastle's Metro Radio Arena on Eddie Hearn shows.

Blimey. This could be a lot of fun. But who on earth are Probellum and why are they targeting Sunderland in such a deliberate way? Here, I investigate:

Three-weight world champion Ricky Burns is also on his way to the Rainton Meadows Arena before Christmas.

In short, Probellum are boxing’s newest global promoter and are aiming to become a powerhouse in the sport.

The company will hold its first show in Dubai next month and are set to launch in the UK at the Rainton Meadows Arena in Houghton, Sunderland on December, 18.

And there’s a UK television deal rumoured to be in the pipeline… which is where the money lies.

During my research, I caught up with Harrison Whitman, Probellum’s chief strategist to shed some light on the company.

Geordie fighter Lewis Ritson will cross the divide to fight in Sunderland.

He explained: “Probellum is a new company with huge ambitions and this is right the way across the world.

“From the big markets in the UK and America to shows across Africa and other parts of the world where boxing is huge.

“We’re going to explore opportunities that other companies just haven’t done. This show has already sold out before anybody has really written a word about it.”

Nick Peet, a boxing insider, sports journalist and award-winning podcast host (shout out to the Fight Disciples, it is great), has been contracted to provide content for the Probellum platform.

He too was able to take us through the company’s initial goals.

“The ethos of Probellum is to take boxing to the masses and globally,” Peet explains. “They want to make it the biggest boxing promotion in the world.”

“The way they are going to do that is by partnering with existing promotions all over the world. They have partnerships in Germany, Lithuania, Ghana. You name it. Every corner of the world. Australia.

“The plan is to have an affiliate partner everywhere and what Probellum will do then will co-promote between themselves and the local promoter.

“Probellum can offer a network of fighters to these shows and credence with big television networks all over the world.

“You ask any boxing promoter and the golden ticket is TV exposure. It brings money into the pocket and attracts sponsors. Everybody makes money - especially the fighters.”

However, reading this, you’re probably thinking the same thing as I was… this all sounds very exciting and the talk of a global approach is interesting but, once again, why Sunderland and why now?

Yes, the city has a rich history in boxing. Look at Tony Jeffries for instance. An Olympic bronze medalist who was making waves as a professional before injury forced early retirement.

There’s the McCormack brothers, Pat and Luke, who competed at the summer’s Tokyo Olympics, the latter winning a silver medal.

Glen Foot achieved much success alongside Josh Kelly, who are both also from the Sunderland area. Kelly too is a former Olympian.

And who could forget Billy Hardy, the man who won British, Commonwealth and European titles before challenging the iconic Prince Naseem Hammed for a world championship?

Despite this, though, televised boxing in Sunderland isn’t really a thing and hasn’t been for a very long time, with Jeffries the last boxer to fight on the box in Sunderland.

With that in mind, is there really a market?

Whitman explains: “The decision to put the show in Sunderland has paid off. The tickets sold out in a matter of hours. It was incredible. It shows the depth of interest in the North East.

“There always has been that tradition of supporting boxing from people in the North East, there is a huge fan base. Everything that we thought would happen has happened and this is now going to lead to more events like this.

“That, in a nutshell, is why we chose Sunderland. Having fighters from the North East and Scotland gives the event a different feel.”

And local fighters also seem to be right on board with this approach.

“I believe you can probably bring bigger shows to the Sunderland area,” Ward, who will fight on the December 18 card, explained.

“It is marketing it properly and getting the media behind it properly. I don’t think that has happened enough before which is why boxing in Sunderland isn’t as big as it should be.”

Behemoth promoters Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren have hosted big television shows in Newcastle over the years but it seems now could be the time for Sunderland to arrive on the scene in its own right.

“I can’t remember many times a Sunderland arena hosted televised international boxing, Peet adds. “It hasn’t really been a hotspot area in that regard for television boxing shows.

“Probellum wants to change this and enter new territories and bring boxing to the masses in new areas. Usually, if a big boxing event comes to the North East, it goes to the Metro Radio Arena in Newcastle.

“Let people travel in the opposite direction on the Metro for a change!”

But could this all just be a little bit of a flash in the pan? Might Probellum promise much but fail to deliver like so many before them?

“I believe that Probellum are a very good promotional team and if they can bring big fights to the area then they will certainly bring them,” Ward added.

Similarly, Whitman insists that Probellum are “100%” here to stay and that ‘the success of this will lead to more” shows in Sunderland.

He added: “The North East is a great place, the area is very suitable, the venue is very good and the fan base is there.

“Probellum has got huge ambitions across boxing from grassroots right the way through.”

“This show has already sold out before anybody has really written a word about it.

“I think you will see a lot more of Probellum in 2022. Success breeds success and I think it is going to move on very quickly.”

British boxing fans have a lot of choices these days.

There’s Eddie Hearn and the DAZN platform. Frank Warren and his deal with BT Sport.

Sky Sports remain a powerhouse and Channel Five are very much still involved, with all of the above platforms featuring regular UK and US shows.

That makes boxing a confusing sport to follow, especially given the numerous governing bodies and managery of meaningless titles.

The waters are certainly muddied with the WBA, WBO, WBC, IBO, IBF all offering multiple world, international, silver, gold and just-about-whatever-else-they-can-think-of champions from heavyweight to strawweight.

How, then, will Probellum stand out from the crowd? This is where Nick Peet really comes into his element.

“You will never see daft interim or international belts on a Probellum show,” he explains. “Yes, we will have British, Commonwealth, European and other national titles.

“There’s probably something like half a dozen WBA and WBO international lightweight champions and it means absolutely nothing.

“If they mean nothing, why give the organisations the three per cent cut of the purse?

“Bin the belts. We are going to concentrate on good, even matchups and well-matched fights,” he concludes.

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