Stephan Shaw was determined to accept the biggest fight of his life on short notice last month.

Shaw spent entirely too much time in what he called “dark places,” depressed because his boxing career hadn’t gone as he had planned. The unbeaten heavyweight therefore felt turning down a main event ESPN will televise against Efe Ajagba on Saturday night wasn’t an option.

Guido Vianello, an unbeaten Italian prospect, was to face Ajagba in the 10-round cofeature. Oscar Rivas (19-1, 19KOs), who withdrew because of a detached retina, was supposed to fight Shaw. But he feels boxing Ajagba will showcase Shaw (18-0, 13 KOs, 1 NC) in just the way the cerebral boxer-puncher had hoped when he and his promoter, Lou DiBella, committed to a co-promotional agreement with Bob Arum’s Top Rank Inc. last January.

“When he was offered the fight with Ajagba,” DiBella told, “I said to him, ‘Maybe you wanna stick with Guido. It’s an easy fight for you. You’re gonna look like King Kong. Maybe take that fight first.’ He was like, ‘No, man. I want the main show. This is what I want. I’m ready for this. I don’t wanna f— around with Guido. I know I’m gonna beat Guido. I know I’m gonna beat [Ajagba]. Give me the main event.’ Then I made the fight for him and that was it. I made the fight for him because he wanted it.”

Shaw wants Ajagba (16-1 and 13 KOs), to show that he is ready for the opportunity to fulfill the potential he showed when he was an alternate member of the 2012 U.S Olympic Team. While DiBella has promoted Shaw for the past five year, they have not been able to find any prospects or other contenders to challenge Shaw.

Shaw will be able to show DiBella what he has seen since he was a 6-foot-4, 235-pound heavyweight.

“Stephan Shaw is the whole package,” DiBella said. “He’s promotable, he’s a good interview, he’s bright, he can fight. This is his coming-out party. I’ve always thought he was right up there in that Jared Anderson kind of discussion. But, you know, now he’s getting the opportunity to prove it.”

Arum’s company promotes plenty of heavyweights with whom it can match Shaw if he defeats the heavy-handed Ajagba in the second fight of a doubleheader ESPN will broadcast from Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York (10 p.m. ET; 7 p.m. PT). The Nigerian-born Ajagba has received more exposure, but Shaw is a slight betting favorite entering Ajagba’s second fight since Cuban contender Frank Sanchez (21-0, 14 KOs) out-boxed and out-pointed him in their 10-rounder 15 months ago at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

The 28-year-old Ajagba had surgery on both elbows before his last fight, a second-round stoppage of Hungary’s Joszef Darmos (14-6-3, 10 KOs) on August 27. The 2016 Olympian promised that he won’t follow Shaw around the ring, the way he chased Sanchez, and questioned whether Shaw will be able to withstand his power.

“It’s a tough fight,” DiBella said. “But if [Shaw] wins the way I think he’ll win, I think he’s ready for anybody. He wants to fight the big guys. He wants the smoke. Right now, it’s very hard to get guys to accept risky fights, period. But to get a guy to rachet it up on short notice to get in a main event, you don’t see this in boxing much anymore, forget about the heavyweight division. It speaks volumes about the fact this guy believes he is the real motherf ——. That’s something I respect. I’m not gonna stand in the way of a guy like this. He wanted it and he got. I applaud his attitude.”

Shaw said there was no other choice. He wants to win a heavyweight championship to change his financial future.

“It’s gonna be a very heartfelt moment for me,” Shaw said. “It’s gonna mean a lot to me because it’s going to change my life. I’m just excited, man, because I feel like this is a life-changing moment for me and I’m ready to take full advantage of it. I’m gonna be very, very happy when I beat Ajagba and move on to bigger and better things and put myself, you know, where I felt I should have been and where I need to be.”

Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist at You can reach him on Twitter @Idecboxing.

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