When one thinks of notable names throughout the history of Women’s Boxing some will likely recall fighters such as Ann Wolfe, Christy Martin, Holly Holm, Laila Ali, Lucia Rijker, Deirdre Gogarty, and Mia St. John. All fighters who became world champions throughout their careers and became stars of the sport. A new name has emerged to become a star of Women’s Boxing. Undefeated unified WBC/IBF Super-Middleweight world champion Claressa Shields.
Shields, a native of Flint, MI emerged on the scene when she won an Olympic gold medal in the 2012 Olympics in the Middleweight division, the first time Women’s Boxing was included in the Olympic Games. Shields went on to become a two-time Olympic gold medalist at the 2016 Olympics in the Middleweight division. After becoming only the second American boxer to win two Olympic gold medals, joining Oliver Kirk, who won two gold medals at the 1904 Olympics as a Bantamweight and Featherweight, and compiling an incredible record of 77-1 as an amateur, Shields embarked on a professional career turning pro in November 2016 where she scored a four round unanimous decision over Franchon Crews.
After scoring two more victories over Szilvia Szabados and Sydney LeBlanc, Shields challenged unified WBC/IBF Super-Middleweight world champion Nikki Adler in August of last year and stopped her in the fifth round to become a world champion in only her fourth professional fight. Although it is a rare achievement for a fighter to win a world championship so early in their professional careers, Shields did compete in seventy-eight bouts as an amateur and this along with her Olympic pedigree has allowed her to gain experience, which not all fighters at similar stages of their professional careers are necessarily able to have.
This all led to Shields’ first title defense on January 12th at the Turning Stone Resort and Casino in Verona, NY against top contender and former two-division world champion Tori Nelson. This was an interesting fight in my eyes as it not only represented Shields’ first title defense, but much like her bout against Nikki Adler, the new champion would be going against an opponent with considerable professional experience, who was unbeaten in twenty previous professional bouts and had won world championships in both the Welterweight and Middleweight divisions.
What impressed me about Shields in this fight was her composure in establishing the tempo of the combat. Shields established a pace where she was able to consistently get her punches off first and gradually outwork Nelson and did not allow the former world champion much of an opportunity to turn the tempo of the fight in her favor.
It was equally impressive however; that Shields faced an opponent in Nelson who was very “Game” and took everything the champion threw at her and kept coming forward. Shields would retain her world championship by scoring a ten round unanimous decision. This was a crucial fight in Shields’ career thus far in my eyes because she was fought a former world champion, who showed resistance and was able to extend her to the ten round distance for the first time in her career.
As for what is next for Claressa Shields a potential move down in weight to face undefeated unified WBC/WBO Women’s Middleweight world champion Christina Hammer appears likely. Although some may question whether it is a risk for Shields to move down in weight, it is important to remember that fighters such as Ann Wolfe and Christy Martin won world championships in multiple weight classes throughout their careers and from a standpoint of what fight could not only draw considerable interest not only for the bout itself, but also for the sport of Women’s Boxing, it would be a battle between two undefeated world champions.
In terms of Women’s Boxing history, some might recall the battle between Christy Martin and Deirdre Gogarty that took place on the undercard of Frank Bruno’s WBC Heavyweight championship title defense in his second fight with Mike Tyson on March 16, 1996. A fight that was featured on the pay-per-view portion of that card here in the United States that frankly was the fight of the night on that card and one of the best fights in Boxing overall in 1996. Women’s Boxing was elevated from the Martin-Gogarty fight and the sport was able to gain much needed exposure due largely to the platform that Showtime, one of the sport’s top premium television networks was able to provide Women’s Boxing both on their network as well as their pay-per-view cards at that time.
Although networks have showcased Women’s Boxing from time to time in the years since, there is so much more that could be done to elevate the sport. A fight between Christina Hammer and Claressa Shields could represent the next step in the evolution of the sport of Women’s Boxing. As the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has proven Women’s combat sports is growing and it is time for Women’s Boxing to be presented in a similar fashion as Women’s MMA has been over the last several years. While some might disagree, this observer believes the timing is right for Women’s Boxing and a Hammer-Shields encounter if it does happen, will be a step forward in that process.
Although the landscape of television as a whole has changed considerably over the last twenty-two years due in large part to the advent of Over The Top (OTT) digital distribution, it is great to see a network like Showtime once again leading the way for providing a platform for Women’s combat sports as they also played a significant role in showcasing Women’s MMA during its early years, much in the same way as they did in showcasing Women’s Boxing back in the 1990s. It is my hope that other networks on traditional television cable/satellite, over the air (OTA) as well as digital OTT networks recognize the potential to help grow Women’s Boxing. As I have said on several occasions, it is long overdue.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
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