The bout between undefeated world champions Claressa Shields and Marie-Eve Dicaire to determine the Undisputed Women’s Jr. Middleweight world championship was more than merely a unification bout to determine an undisputed champion between two great fighters. This fight was a symbol of progress for the women of Boxing as a whole. After all, there are some who will say that the first time they were exposed to Women’s Boxing on television was during the early-mid 1990’s when Christy Martin made a name for herself competing on undercards of major Boxing events, many of which were broadcast on pay-per-view. Although Martin’s legacy as a trailblazer for women in the sport is more than secure after compiling a Hall of Fame career, the sport as a whole continued to struggle for consistent exposure on television particularly here in the United States.
When the decision was made by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to sanction Women’s Boxing for the first time in the 2012 Summer Olympics, it opened a new opportunity for Women in the sport. As many know, Claressa Shields not only seized the opportunity, but arguably took the spotlight in both the 2012 and 2016 games by becoming the only Olympic boxer in the history of the United States to win consecutive gold medals. She then was able to benefit from the increased exposure upon turning professional in 2016. Along with the exposure Shields was able to receive came increased exposure for the entire sport of Women’s Boxing.
Over her professional career, Shields has built a resume of her own in becoming a three-division world champion in only ten pro bouts and completely unifying the 160lb. Middleweight division in the process. When Shields faced Marie-Eve Dicaire, she was chasing further Boxing history in attempting to become the first fighter male or female in the history of the sport to fully unify two weight classes. While this in itself was historic, it would come on a night where Women’s Boxing took center stage, as the main event of a pay-per-view card of all women’s bouts.
What took place when Shields and Dicaire squared off in the ring at the Dort Financial Center in Shields’ hometown in Flint, MI on March 5th was essentially what one would expect to see from a great fighter in a high stakes situation. For ten rounds, Shields put on a full demonstration of her Boxing skills. Whether it was her defense, combination punching, or just her overall skillset, this fight as much as any of her previous bouts as a professional or an amateur showed not only why many consider Shields the top Women’s fighter in the world, but also that her skills continue to evolve.
In previewing this fight, I stated that stylistically things seemed to favor Shields because of her tendency to be aggressive and apply pressure on her opponents. While this indeed was a key component of her strategy in this fight, what was impressive was how she essentially switched her approach throughout. Switched her approach not because her initial approach of aggression and pressure was unsuccessful, but as an added element that kept Dicaire from being able to find a rhythm. In simple terms, Shields did not do too much of only one aspect, but mixed every aspect together in near perfect execution. When she felt like forcing the fight on Dicaire, she did, when she wanted to primarily use defense and her counter punching to dictate the combat, she did. This strategy was effective to such a degree that Dicaire, a fighter who is most effective when she is able to use angles, lateral movement, and distance to execute her offense, was unable to settle down and let her hands go with consistency. Whether it was nerves in fighting for an undisputed championship for the first time in her career, a healthy respect for Shields’ skillset, Dicaire was not able to implement a similar approach as she has done previously in her career and this ultimately resulted in Shields winning every round on all three judges scorecards, winning a ten round unanimous decision to secure her second undisputed world championship in a second weight class after previously unifying the Middleweight division in her career.
Although much of the focus of this card and subsequently of this post-column centers on Claressa Shields and will conclude on the subject of where she goes after completely unifying two weight classes, the all-women’s event SuperWomen also featured three other bouts in the Bantamweight and Heavyweight divisions that also need discussion. The first of these bouts featured Bantamweight contender Marlen Esparza, who scored a six round unanimous decision over Shelly Barnett.
Esparza, who is a former world title challenger having suffered her lone career defeat in that challenge to undefeated WBA Flyweight champion Seneisa Estrada in November 2019, has worked her way back into world title contention as she is currently the WBC’s top contender in the Flyweight division. Esparza however, has shown she is a contender in both the 112lb. Flyweight division and the 118lb. Bantamweight division as she outworked veteran Shelly Barnett over the six round distance to win a unanimous decision. While it is not uncommon in Women’s Boxing to see fighters move between weight classes on a per fight basis depending on what opportunities may be available to them, Esparza is the current mandatory challenger for current WBC world champion Ibeth Silva and it is logical barring things like potential injuries or anything related to the ongoing global COVID-19 epidemic, that Esparza will likely look to challenge Silva in the near future if a potential world championship opportunity in the Bantamweight division is not an option at the present time.
The second Bantamweight bout that took place on the SuperWomen event featured undefeated rising contender Jamie Mitchell facing veteran Noemi Bosques. This fight was controlled by Mitchell, who’s harder punches and ring generalship gradually wore a “Game”, but ultimately over matched Bosques before the bout was stopped in the fifth round giving Mitchell her sixth career victory in eight professional bouts.
In Mitchell’s eight career bouts, she has fought to two draws. One of those draws came against perhaps her best known opponent thus far Britain Hart in August 2019. Hart as many know recently scored a five round unanimous decision over MMA star Paige VanZant, in a fight fought under Bareknuckle Boxing rules in the Bareknuckle Fighting Championship (BKFC). Much like more opportunities are opening up for women in traditional Boxing, the idea of the women who competed on this card potentially competing in Bareknuckle Boxing should not be dismissed as Bareknuckle Boxing has re-emerged in the last decade in various forms and is seeing continuing growth around the world. Perhaps a potential bout for Mitchell off of her victory over Bosques could be a rematch with Hart fought under either traditional or Bareknuckle rules.
As Women’s Boxing has increased in exposure, among the the weight classes that have been able to take advantage of the exposure has been the Heavyweight division. The final preliminary bout that took place prior to Claressa Shields’ bout with Marie-Eve Dicaire was a Heavyweight rematch between undefeated Danielle Perkins and Monika Harrison. A rematch from last August that was fought in the Cruiserweight division, Perkins successfully made her professional debut on that evening by scoring a four round unanimous decision over Harrison. Now in her third bout this time fought at Heavyweight, Perkins saw similar results in her second encounter with Harrison as she experienced in her pro debut. Perkins out worked Harrison over six rounds to earn a convincing unanimous decision victory. If there was a slight difference between this fight and their first meeting last year, it appeared in the second half of this rematch that if Perkins opted to apply more pressure on Harrison, she may have been able to get a stoppage as Harrison appeared to struggle in the latter stages of the bout.
It is hard to necessarily say a fighter with only three professional bouts is ready for a potential world title shot. While in most cases this is true when discussing Men’s Boxing, it’s important to keep in mind that Women’s Boxing is still very much a sport that is growing in both the traditional and Bareknuckle forms. As such, it is not hard to envision Perkins possibly getting a shot at a world championship in the Heavyweight division in the near future depending on whether an opportunity for a championship bout exists. One should also consider that Perkins rematch against Harrison was for the Women’s WBC Silver championship in the Heavyweight division. While such championships are not held in high regard throughout the entire sport, in reality, the silver championship grants the holder of it a higher position in the WBC’s rankings in a given weight class. When one also factors into the equation that the WBC’s Women’s world championship in the Heavyweight division is currently vacant, the idea of Perkins fighting for a world championship sooner than later should be viewed as a very real possibility.
While the future for the fighters who were able to shine on the SuperWomen undercard is unknown as of this writing as to potential future bouts, so too are questions regarding what Claressa Shields will do next. Shields, who in recent months made her intentions to venture into the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) clear by signing with the Professional Fighters League (PFL) MMA promotion revealed after her victory over Marie-Eve Dicaire that she intends to make her MMA debut as well as box again later this year.
Although this may be viewed as a difficult task to accomplish particularly in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, it’s clear that Shields wants to compete and do so often. It should also not be overlooked that for a fighter who has thus far been dominant in her sport, she is challenging herself by testing the waters in a different combat sport while maintaining her position as the focal point in the view of many for Women’s Boxing.
In terms of who she might fight in her next bout, a danger with a fighter being able to achieve as much as Shields has in now only eleven fights is the idea of having accomplished everything possible. It is certainly true that after fully unifying two weight divisions and becoming a three-division world champion overall that Shields’ legacy in what will be a Hall of Fame resume is secure. There are still possibilities for her in the sport and one should not view the possibility of her going back up to the 168lb. Super-Middleweight division where she also holds a world championship to attempt to unify a third weight division as unrealistic.
While we will have to see what the future holds for Claressa Shields outside of her venture into MMA, which may include facing world champions in lower weight classes, or maybe even venturing into the Bareknuckle realm of the sport, it’s clear that Women’s Boxing has definitely come a long way and the SuperWomen event was a win for Boxing as a whole, but more importantly, a testament to the progress that has been made for Women competing in the sport. Something that has been long overdue.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
Promotional poster Courtesy of FITE TV Used with permission.
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