This Wednesday, Nadim Salloum (11-1, 5 KOs) will be fighting his thirteenth professional outing (Editor's Note: BoxRec has Nadim Salloum as 9-1 so the record typed above is what he feels it should be and is actively looking to get it corrected) against Decarlo Perez (19-6-1, 6 KOs) at the Sony Hall in Times Square, New York. In what is considered a step-up fight for the Lebanese native, it's only another match for Salloum, whose journey to this point has been nothing less than remarkable.
Nadim is the first and only athlete from Lebanon to become a professional boxer. Nadim started boxing when he was 14 years old to lose weight. In a country where few sports thrive, Nadim stumbled across boxing in a studio where his father was a weightlifting trainer. “I was a fat kid. I weighed like 195 pounds. So I wanted to lose weight, and I just got into boxing,” said Nadim chuckling.
What started as a hobby and a fun way to lose weight became a serious passion when Salloum fought his first divisional boxing tournament when he was 16. The euphoria and jubilation he experienced after winning the tournament gave the young Lebanese boxer a sense of purpose and newfound confidence. That's the day Nadim decided that boxing would become his profession. Unfortunately, however, Salloum, becoming a professional boxer will be more of a nightmare than a dream for the next several years.
“Boxing is what I wanted to do in life. But In Lebanon, we didn't have any professional boxers. So it was kind of tough to understand how to turn pro. What does it mean? I was in amateur tournaments. I boxed in the Asian championship in 2015 in Thailand Bangkok. I competed in the Mediterranean championship like three times. But in Lebanon, we don't have amateur events, we have a very poor sports federation, and they are linked to politics. So, it was very complicated,” said Salloum to NYFights.
For the next few years, sparring and training would be the only way Nadim could work on his craft. As his skills developed, fighters from his hometown didn't want to fight him. Additionally, the pool of boxers was small; Salloum would show up to tournaments and win by default because no one was willing or available to fight him. And if he did fight at a sanctioned tournament, it would only be once or twice a year.
“I believe that anything can happen in this life, and you can be whatever you want to be. So, I dedicated myself to the sport and still trained twice a day,” recounted Nadim.
However, training is not enough to break into professional boxing, and Salloum knew if he wanted to become a professional boxer, he had to leave Lebanon. That's when the young Lebanese pugilist decided to go to the United States. Salloum's ambition to become a professional boxer was so great that he didn't leave Lebanon to attend any old gym. Instead, with a “go big or go home mentality,” or in Nadim's case, “go big or stay home mentality,” Salloum showed up at the Wild Card Gym. Yes, the world-renowned Wild Card Gym where Freddie Roach trained the great Manny Pacquiao and other world champions.
Why the Wild Card gym?
“In 2014, my inspiration was Manny Pacquiao. He's from the Philippines; he was poor and had no food. So, I thought if this guy made it, anybody could make it. So I googled where he trained. And we all know Freddie Roach, and I saw that he trained at Wild Card in Los Angeles,” said Nadim. Salloum continued, “so I stopped my university because I don't come from a rich family. So I had to save my money to be able to learn boxing. I stopped after two years of college, and I went to the United States for the first time in 2014 to find someone to help me and teach me what it means to be a professional boxer. I still needed to learn what professional boxing was. I was trying to understand what a manager, promoter, or advisor meant. I didn't know anything about boxing, so in 2014 nobody helped me.”
In 2014, Nadim stayed in Los Angeles for a month and then returned to Lebanon. In 2105 and 2016, he would make the same trip to the Wild Card gym. Each time for a month, each time leaving without getting anyone's help or a chance to land a professional fight. Salloum was running out of money, and making these yearly trips was getting expensive. However, Salloum remained hopeful and would make another trip to the United States in 2017. “In 2017, that was my last shot. I had a car, a BMW; I sold it for $7000, took the money, and left for LA. I said, ‘this time, I'm going to make it happen.' I met Mexican trainer Juan “El Panda” Martinez on that trip. He told me that he could take me to Tijuana if I wanted to be a professional boxer that badly. And I can get you a professional fight, so I drove with him to Tijuana. I did my first fight, and I got a first-round knockout. Then I went back home and was stuck again in Lebanon.”
While back in Lebanon, Nadim still had a burning desire to pursue a career as a professional boxer. He reached out to Martinez and asked him to help him. Martinez told Salloum to contact Mexican boxer Mario Cazares. Cazares agreed to support the Lebanese pugilist, and Salloum headed for Mexico City. Life wasn't easy for Nadim in Mexico. He didn't speak Spanish, the city was dangerous, and he got robbed on the train. But for Salloum, it was worth it because at least he was boxing. With Cazares's help, he would fight twice professionally in Mexico, winning both matches.
Now with three professional fights under his belt, Nadim had realized his dream of becoming a professional boxer. However, Salloum knew that to progress in his career; he had to move to the United States. So, Salloum contacted his brother-in-law, that lived in New York, for a helping hand. “He said ‘Listen, you can come here and stay at my place for like three or four weeks and let's see what happens.' So, I went, and I lived at this place,” said Nadim.
The end of his stay at his brother-in-law's house was quickly approaching. That's when Nadim remembered that while he was in Mexico, one of his childhood classmates reached out to him and offered the vagabond boxer a place to stay. “Roberto Salem was with me in school. He recognized me in one of my boxing matches on Facebook. But the last time I saw him, I was ten years old. He texted me and said, ‘listen, man, I live in New York. If you like you can stay with me. Let's have dinner.' I was desperate, and my mom cried back home because it was not working out. So, finally, I told my mom, ‘Listen, mom, if I'm willing to live on the streets -if you believe that you gave birth to a world champion, let me continue- if you don't, let me go back home, and I'll give it up. So, I went and had dinner with Roberto, which was the turning point of my career. I told Roberto that all I needed was a place to stay for 3-4 days to see what would happen. It's been four years, and I still live on this couch,” said Salloum while laughing.
Shortly after, Nadim had his fourth professional fight and first in the United States. While training for his U.S.A. debut, Nadim suffered an injury before the fight and probably should've withdrawn from the match. “I was injured, but nothing was going to stop me from fighting my first fight in the U.S., said the super middleweight prospect. Nadim dropped a majority decision in his first outing in the U.S.A. There were some learning curves about the business, picking trainers, and of course, making up for his lack of amateur experience that Nadim had to struggle through. However, since that loss, Salloum has gone undefeated in his last eight outings. Jose Guzman, a recommendation by WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman, trains Nadim. Nadim has finally realized his dream, but for him, the goal doesn't end with becoming a professional fighter. Now he has his eyes set on contending for a world title.
So, what does Nadim's mom now think about her son's boxing escapades? “She is very proud, and I give a big shout-out to my mom. Because my mom is a fighter, she's also a champion. In December 2020, she got lung cancer, and in January 2020, she got COVID. Then in December 2021, she got brain cancer, had another bout with COVID and she beat all of them up. So, she's a champion. She motivates me, and she's very proud. I want to make her happy every time I step in the ring,” said Salloum proudly.
The self-described boxer/counter-puncher trains twice daily and is confident that he will beat Decarlo Perez on December 21st. “He's a veteran. He's been a professional since 2010. So, he's been around for a while. I don't think he'll beat me. I think I'm hungrier than him. I believe those who want it more work harder. It's not a secret whoever works harder wins. I don't think anybody works harder than me, so I think I'm going to get the job done”, said Nadim.
The fight will be streamed on YouTube this Wednesday night, and Nadim is grateful. “I'm happy about that because Lebanon doesn't even have banks anymore. That's how bad it is right now. So people don't have cards (debit/credit cards) to subscribe. So people don't watch my fights usually. But now it's going to be on YouTube, so they will be able to watch me fight,” said Nadim.
Salloum concluded our interview with this message.
“I have a message to deliver. I come from a place where people hate each other. They hate each other over religion, over politics. So I want to make it big to show them that you can dream and be a good human being and that peace and love are the way to live. I want to talk to my Lebanese people. I want to tell them that I promise I will make you proud. And even though the country is passing through difficult moments, there's always a light at the end of the tunnel. So we must keep pushing forward, and the sky's the limit. Any dream can come true and believe in yourself.”
Nadim Salloum is a skilled boxer who throws combinations well, keeps opponents at the end of his reach, and moves well around the ring. Decarlo Perez is a solid fighter who's comfortable banging on the inside. However, he has a lazy jab which makes Perez vulnerable to a counter-right hand; a punch that Salloum throws very well. Salloum is a fighter in every sense of the word. His determination and will to become a professional fighter at all costs have made up for his lack of boxing experience so far. Nadim is charismatic, likable, and doesn't back down from a fight in or outside the ring. Something tells me that the best for Nadim Salloum is yet to come.