Sunday, June 4, 2023

Shields Shines In Homecoming

Initially, undefeated Undisputed Women's Middleweight champion Claressa Shields was to defend her title on June 3rd against Hannah Gabriels in a rematch of their bout in 2018, which was won by Shields, but one where Gabriels scored a knockdown of the woman regarded by many as the best pound for pound fighter in Women's Boxing. The planned rematch however, would not come to fruition as Gabriels would test positive for a banned substance resulting in her being removed from the bout on a week's notice. In stepped the number one contender of three of the four sanctioning organizations which comprises Shields' undisputed crown, Maricela Cornejo who took the opportunity to fight the champion in Shields' home state of Michigan meeting her at the Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.

For all intents and purposes, this was a homecoming for Shields, who is from nearby Flint, MI. While a fighter having to adapt to a change of opponent on short notice is not new in combat sports, circumstances such as that as well as competing in essentially your hometown before a sizable crowd of supporters is something that can add pressure on a fighter. This would turn out to not be an issue for Shields. 

Claressa Shields has made a career on her ability to dominate her opponents often by throwing punches in volume and outworking her opposition with compact combination punching. This time however, Shields attempted to show that she has punching power. The champion did this by looking to add more power on her punches, but more specifically, in how she placed her punches. The primary weapon for the champion on this occasion would be her right hand, which she threw from the outset and was able to land frequently throughout the scheduled ten round world championship bout. 

It did not take long for the champion to establish that she was the stronger of the two fighters as she was able to keep Maricela Cornejo on the defensive consistently throughout the fight. Although Shields did not throw much in spurts, otherwise known as volume punching in this fight, she was nevertheless effective in landing her combinations and rarely missing the target with her right hand.  Cornejo was able to periodically catch Shields with left hooks and right hands off her own, but simply could not find a way to break the ebb and flow of the fight, which consisted of Shields coming forward, forcing her backwards, and landing hard, thudding punches, often with the right hand.

As this fight progressed, two thoughts came to this observer's mind. Number one, the heart that Maricela Cornejo showed throughout as she was taking punches that would have ended the night for most fighters, and two, whether either the referee or her corner would end up stopping the fight to prevent her from further punishment. This was particularly what ran through my mind in the seventh round when Shields connected with a flush right hand to the head as Cornejo was against the ropes that snapped her head back in a violent fashion. While no one should take anything away from the mettle and heart Maricela Cornejo showed in this fight as she ended up going the distance, if there was a moment where a fight probably should have been stopped, that would have been the time to do it. 

Ultimately, this fight, much like many others in Shields' career, ended in a wide and convincing ten round unanimous decision to retain her Undisputed Middleweight world championship. As Shields has been an undisputed world champion in three different weight classes, this latest successful defense reinforces the view of some that she has not been put through a significant test as of yet and thus it creates a scenario where she can either stay in the 160lb. Middleweight division or possibly move down to the 154lb. Jr. Middleweight division or up to the 168lb. Super-Middleweight division where she's become undisputed world champion in those weight classes before vacating those titles. 

While such a predicament is something that is truly rare in Boxing for both men and women, it is important to note that Women's Boxing is still very much growing and Shields bringing long overdue exposure to the sport is something that she can take credit for as there is little doubt that Women's Boxing has thrived since she won two gold medals in back to back Olympics and subsequently turned professional. Her dominance however, reflects both just how good and skilled she is as a fighter, but also shows, despite the significant progress the sport for women has made in recent years, it is still something that is in it's growing stages.

For now, Claressa Shields maintains her position as the Undisputed Middleweight champion of the world and the pound for pound best in the sport. The question does however, remain as to whether there is a fighter currently out there or perhaps one on the horizon that can give Shields the competitive test she is clearly seeking.

"And That's The Boxing Truth."

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