Efe Ajagba’s lone loss hasn’t convinced his promoter to give up on the hard-hitting Nigerian heavyweight.

Bob Arum still believes Ajagba can make his mark in the division, starting Saturday night against Stephan Shaw. The 6-foot-6, 235-pound Ajagba will square off with Shaw in his second fight since skillful Cuban contender Frank Sanchez out-classed Ajagba on the Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder undercard in October 2021 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Arum anticipates a much better performance from Ajagba in a 10-round main event ESPN will televise from Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York.

“It’s a good fight,” Arum told BoxingScene.com. “You know, it’s the kind of fight you could bet it either way. Efe looked terrible with Sanchez on that Wilder-Fury card. But he’s a much better fighter than that. He had injuries and now he’s had operations [on both elbows]. And Shaw, nobody’s beaten him.”

St. Louis’ Shaw (18-0, 13 KOs, 1 NC) replaced Colombian contender Oscar Rivas (28-1, 19 KOs) as Ajagba’s opponent on less than one month’s notice after Rivas suffered a detached retina while training. Shaw wants to prove he is a contender by beating the best opponent of his nine-year professional career, but the 28-year-old Ajagba (16-1, 13 KOs) realizes he cannot afford what would be a second defeat to an unbeaten boxer-puncher in his past three fights.

Sanchez (21-0, 14 KOs) dropped Ajagba in the seventh round and won their 10-rounder by comfortable margins on all three scorecards (98-91, 98-91, 97-92). Ajagba stopped Hungary’s Joszef Darmos (14-6-3, 10 KOs) on August 27 at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in his only action since Sanchez beat him.

“We signed Efe because we had high hopes for him,” Arum said. “We still do, but he was very tentative when he fought Sanchez, who’s a pretty good heavyweight. He didn’t know how to handle Sanchez. He didn’t get beat up or anything, but he was slow and hesitant. A lot of it was attributable to his injuries, so we’ll have to see. I think this is a real proving fight for Efe.”

Shaw wants to prove himself, too, in the most meaningful of his four fights since he and his longtime promoter, Lou DiBella, entered a co-promotional agreement with Arum’s Top Rank Inc.

“If he gets by Efe, he’s right up there,” Arum said. “And then it’s sink or swim. Sometimes, when a guy gets into that rarefied atmosphere, he excels. So, we’ll have to see. … With heavyweights, you never know who’s gonna rise to the top.”

ESPN’s two-bout broadcast is scheduled to start at 10 p.m. ET.

In its opener, another 10-round heavyweight bout, Italian prospect Guido Vianello (10-0-1, 9 KOs) will square off against Las Vegas’ Jonnie Rice (15-6-1, 10 KOs). Rice replaced Shaw as Vianello’s opponent when Shaw was elevated into the main event.

“Guido has not, you know, been that great in the fights that we’ve had him in, but this is his chance to prove himself,” Arum said. “Whether he will or not, that’s up to him. And if he does, a big Italian heavyweight is worth a lot because it opens up a big market in Italy.”

Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.