Carlos “Teo” Cruz was the first boxer from the Dominican Republic to win a world title when he upset Puerto Rican boxing legend, Carlos Ortiz in 1966. Since then, the Dominican Republic has produced some notable fighters, including former world champions Agapito Sanchez, Julio Cesar, and currently the WBA Minimum World Champion Erick Rosa. Recently Javier Fortuna, Elvis Rodriguez, and the self-proclaimed “Muhammad Ali incarnate” Michel Rivera are solid fighters at the cusp of becoming world champions.
The Dominican Republic has always produced talented boxers. But unfortunately, most of them go relatively unnoticed for most of their career. Unless they are fighting for or winning a major world title, most Dominican fighters reside in the abyss of boxing obscurity.
However, Dominican boxing promoter Bélgica Pena is working hard to change that narrative. She is the CEO of Shuan Boxing Promotions. The Dominican-based promotion company has recently partnered up with the global promotion and media company Probellum.
Pena is a young, enthusiastic, assertive promoter who has a passion for boxing. She is focused on promoting Dominican fighters and launching their careers into the mainstream boxing public.
In a one-on-one interview for NYFights, Pena discussed her career, the fighters she represents, and what she wants to achieve as the CEO of Shuan Boxing Promotions.
NYF: Why did you become a boxing promoter?
B.P.: I was born in Puerto Rico, and it's a country known for its boxing. I followed the sport when I was young, and I became interested in it. I used to watch all the fights. Although I was born in Puerto Rico, my parents are Dominican. When I decided to get involved with boxing, I noticed that boxers in the Dominican Republic needed more attention and financial support than those in Puerto Rico. The resources are limited here. And if I was going to contribute my “little grain of sand” as a boxing promoter, I wanted to do it somewhere where it would mean something. Therefore, I chose to come to the D.R. and help the new talent get established in professional boxing.
NYF: Tell us about Shuan Boxing Promotions. How long have you been around? Am I pronouncing it correctly?
B.P.: It's pronounced (Shu-whan). We wanted something different. It's actually a nickname. It sounded like a word you would find in an Asian language. So, we said to ourselves, let's name it this so that people are curious about it and wonder where the company is from.
NYF: Who are some of the boxers signed to your promotion company? And tell us about your recent partnership with Probellum.
B.P.: We have a great stable of fighters. We have the WBA Interim Super Lightweight Champion Alberto “La Avispa” Puello. We also have signed the WBA 105 lbs. champion Erick Rosa. Additionally, we have Norberto Jiménez, Victor Santillano, Felix Valera, Angel Cruz, and Jesus Cuadro from Venezuela.
Probellum is a platform that has a lot of international companies. They showed interest in Shuan Boxing Promotions, and we reached an agreement that could be beneficial for both companies.
NYF: What sets you apart from other promotion companies, and what are your future goals?
B.P.: I want to achieve big things. I'm in a world that mainly involves just men. I want to be big and recognized, just like them. I already have various boxers, some of who have become world champions. I would like to have more, and I would like the fighters to grow with our company.
NYF: What motivates you to do what you do? How do you set yourself apart in an industry dominated by men?
B.P.: I'll be honest with you. I've been told by many that this is an aggressive sport. I say the opposite because I believe I'm doing a kind of “social work.” Rich people aren't the ones that are going to make the kind of sacrifices required to become a boxer. They aren't going to diet, make weight, train, spar, run, receive punches, and wake up early in the morning. Most fighters come from low socioeconomic status. Perhaps they don't have a person by their side that can adequately lead and manage their career.
I get filled with great pride when I see an athlete with little resources, sometimes raised within dysfunctional families, achieve their goals and make something of themselves. When people tell me that it's an aggressive sport, I say, “don't look at the way.” Instead, look at the young athletes trying to use their minds, skills, and growth to achieve a higher level in life. That's what motivates me to keep doing this job with great passion.
NYF: What were some of the obstacles you had to overcome to get to where you are now?
B.P.: Sometimes in this business, you find yourself stagnant, and you ask yourself, “is it time to leave this or continue?” Not that I have anything in particular that has held me back. But yes, like any job, there are times when I feel discouraged. But once I realize that I invested a long time into this, and I look back at the journey that it took to build this body of work, I say to myself, “if I give up now, those that have run that marathon with me will also be left behind.” I can't let that happen.
So, I must find the strength even when I feel I can't go on any longer. I always come back stronger and more motivated to keep moving forward. I pull myself together and keep going. Sometimes things don't happen the way you expected them to. We must understand that boxing is not a quick investment. It's a long-term investment, and you must wait it out.
NYF: What's the most rewarding thing about being a promoter?
B.P.: For now, having world champions. Because you always want more. If you have one, you want two, or you want them to unify titles. These athletes are good young men who allow themselves to be managed, disciplined, and do their part.
NYF: What is the most frustrating thing about what you do?
I wouldn't even know what to tell you exactly. Even though I'm a female (within a male-dominated business), I feel many people extend a helping hand. No one has tried to trip me up along the way deliberately. Every time I've knocked on a door in this business, I have been received. I would say perhaps when you are waiting for a title shot and they don't offer you one. However, during the early days of the pandemic, we had the opportunity to put on a card, and we were going to be the first ones worldwide to do so.
We had everything planned and had ESPN Knockout to broadcast it. Then here in the Dominican Republic, there was a vote, and the current government at the time didn't warm up to the idea of having the card go on. And two days before the start of the event, they canceled it. I found out through the news media because they didn't have the decency to personally inform me that they would cancel my event. It caused me a lot of stress and anger.
NYF: What are some of the events you have lined up for this year, and where can people find information about upcoming fights and fighters that you are promoting?
The next event I have is on the 8th of April here in D.R. The main event will be Norberto Jimenez, coming off a draw in Dubai against Donnie Nietes. He will be fighting against the Nicaraguan Keyvin Lara. This fight is going to be a war. We will have two former world champions, Johnathan Guzman and Wilfredo Mendez from Puerto Rico, on the card. There will be a lot of great fights, including the debut of Nicole Ocasio. She is managed by Amanda Serrano. Amanda has fought here, and we share a beautiful friendship. I'm excited that Nicole will be making her debut on our card. It's lovely to be part of it and associate ourselves with promoting women's boxing.
Additionally, We are waiting to see what's happening about a potential fight with our Alberto “La Avispa” Puello against Josh Taylor. But there is the uncertainty if Taylor will be moving up in weight, so we are on standby. Hopefully, that fight can happen. I believe that my fighter has the talent to beat anyone. And we are also waiting to look to schedule the first defense of Erick Rosa's world title in the United States. Great things are coming from Shuan Boxing Promotions.
You can find all the information regarding the event on our social media platforms under Shuan Boxing Promotions. In addition, we will also be transmitted live on our YouTube channel, which is also called Shuan Boxing.
Bélgica Pena smiled brightly as she talked about her fighters and Shuan Boxing Promotions throughout our interview. She exuded confidence and seemed passionate about her work. Pena has put together a solid stable of fighters with an eye for talent and a passion fueled by patriotism. Now forging a partnership with Probellum, Shuan Boxing Promotions has expanded its reach and can showcase Dominican boxers globally. This is the kind of exposure that has been long overdue for the fighters of the Dominican Republic. The future seems bright for Pena and the boxers she promotes.