Boxer Nadim Salloum wants 'Lebanon to grow with me' as he dreams of world title

The first professional from his country is back home and looking to educate aspiring fighters about his journey

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Nadim Salloum springs up from a crouched position – leaning back to avoid a right hook from his sparring partner. He moves in on his opponent, his right is blocked by a shoulder roll, but he then follows up with a left to the body.

It’s a pulled punch, but strong enough to cause Andy to drop his guard and backtrack. He responds, and one of a flurry of punches catches Nadim’s head guard.

“Good!” shouts Salloum through his gumshield, goading Andy to keep going.

Having returned from New York to visit his home town of Jounieh, Nadim “The Unpredictable” Salloum – Lebanon’s first professional boxer – is sparring with Andy, 17, an aspiring fighter from Beqaa, eastern Lebanon.

The bell sounds on an automated timer that rings out in the Fitmind Gym, but both boxers continue to grapple and exchange jabs.

“We keep going until he says he’s had enough,” says Salloum.

For the 17-year-old amateur, every second in the ring is invaluable. “It’s great experience. Gradually I’m learning what you have to do to get to a higher level. Me being in there makes me better,” Andy says later.

And there is certainly a lot to learn.

Salloum, 28, has spent the past three years making his way up the world rankings, picking up four wins in the last year alone. Currently ranked at 155 on BoxRec in the super-middleweight category, and with an official record of 10-1, Salloum is forging a path in professional boxing that no other Lebanese fighter has walked before.

His trajectory took a huge upturn last year when he was signed by Adam Glenn, the son of the legendary New York trainer Jimmy Glenn, who has worked and trained with the likes of Floyd Patterson.

Since coming under Glenn’s management, Salloum has proven he’s a winner. He has also shown he can sell tickets to a captive Lebanese diaspora in places like New York, Washington, and Kentucky. Salloum says he is now ready to take on tougher opponents and move up to eight-round fights.

“In my division, there are a lot of up-and-coming fighters, I’m not going to mention names, but I’m ready to take them on,” he says.

Ever since committing to a life of pro boxing, Salloum has only had one goal in mind – to be world champion. He now says he is only a few years away from being able to take on the likes of Canelo Alvarez.

"I know how to adapt. If I keep doing that, I'll get there," says Salloum.

Salloum's story is certainly one of adaptation and sacrifice. After years of winning fights in Lebanon, he realised that in order to go to the next level and turn professional, he would have to leave his home and train professionally in the US.

To afford his dream he sold his car, dropped out of university and, since 2019, has been living on his friend's couch in New York, allowing him to focus entirely on boxing.

Nadim Salloum in BOXLAB Beirut, Lebanon, on Friday, March 26, 2021. Photo: Matt Kynaston

“The whole family turned against him at the time, but he was insistent,” his mother Ghada told The National in his family home, “now we are very proud.”

As Salloum waits for news of his next fight date, he is trying to use his time at home to support Lebanese talent, promote boxing, and share some of the lessons he has learnt along the way.

“I want to help other people take the same steps. As I grow, I want Lebanon to grow with me,” he says.

During his previous returns to Lebanon, Salloum set up training days with young fighters. On this trip, he is organising an informational day on the August 2 at Bar National in Jounieh to share what he has learnt about networking and turning professional.

“People have no idea about the ins and outs of pro boxing; what it means to have a manager and why you need a promoter. Also practical things like how to make weight, how to get paid, how much you get paid?”

Salloum has grand ambitions for boxing in Lebanon, including setting up his own professional-standard gym – but admits he has struggled in the past to engage with the Lebanese Boxing Federation.

“There is a lot of talent in Lebanon, but they’re not doing enough to support it,” he says, saying the federation is, like the rest of the country, held back by sectarian politics.

The National contacted the LBF, who said they are willing to work with Salloum to promote boxing in Lebanon.

In the meantime, he continues to focus on his main goal – making it to the top.

“Once I become world champion, I will be able to do whatever I want.”

His next fight is yet to be confirmed, but Salloum said Glenn is eying up dates in September. He hopes that within the next year he will be competing for any one of a number of belts from the WBC, WBO and WBA.

Updated: July 22, 2022, 6:00 PM
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