By Andreas Hale
They botched it the first time, now is their chance at redemption.
Two-time Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields made her professional debut essentially in the dark. Rather than being featured on the main card of a relatively lackluster undercard for Andre Ward vs. Sergey Kovalev, Shields ended up on HBO’s Freeview telecast against Franchon Crews in an action-packed fight that saw her take the unanimous decision.
Not that it was a horrible idea, but Freeviews are often ignored and Shields could have been better used on the pay per view portion. Nevertheless, Shields (1-0) will now headline the Showtime broadcast against Szilvia “Sunset” Szabados (15-8, 6 KOs) in a six-round fight from the MGM Grand Detroit on Friday night.
It will be a historic night as Shields will be the first woman to headline a fight on premium cable. There have been expectations for Shields to do for women’s boxing what Ronda Rousey did for woen’s MMA. However, those expectations should be tempered and comparisons eliminated. Although expected, the way Rousey was handled by the UFC will be far different than how boxing will handle Shields. And that’s not because boxing doesn’t care, it’s because of the numerous promoters involved in the sport. The UFC was the biggest promotion in town and put all of their energy pushing Rousey to the top.
But Shields can certainly bring a renewed interest in women’s boxing considering that she’s a back-to-back Olympic gold medalist with a sparkling personality and a style that is entertaining. The 21-year-old isn’t shy about her position as the woman who can carry the sport into the new frontier and appears primed to back it up. Szabados should be little more than a speed bump on her path to recognition.
Boxing has had a challenge laid ahead of it once Floyd Mayweather retired to build another American star. But 2017 has been off to a great start with some excellent fights and Shields can add to what could be one of the best years in recent memory. But she can’t just win fights; she has to dominate. Her fight against Crews, while exciting, wasn’t as one-sided as some would have liked to see. What pushed Rousey to prominence was her ability to finish her opponents in a matter of seconds with her judo and lauded armbar. The great equalizer in boxing has always been the knockout and Shields may need to start finishing her opponents for immediate recognition by the general public. Any way that a highlight reel can squeeze a knockout into their recap will put Shields closer to stardom. Of course, that’s easier said than done.
But Shields has talked a good game in press leading into the fight and has been adamant that she’ll be looking for a knockout in her hometown.
“I’m going to be aggressive. I’m not going to be nervous and I’m not going to freeze up. I’m going to go right out there and hit her in the face with a right hand,” she said on Thursday. “I’m embracing all of this. I grew up and heard when I was young that women can’t fight. I’m ready to show everyone just how wrong that is on Friday night.”
Shields can fight and she proved that with her 77-1 amateur record before turning pro last November. But there were other women who could fight before her that were unable to break through the glass ceiling of being a superstar in the sport. But Shields has that opportunity. She has her eyes set on headlining an eventual pay per view title fight. But there’s only one problem: finding an opponent.
And it’s no secret that the talent pool is relatively shallow. Even worse is that you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who can name a champion or two in women’s boxing.
The current women’s middleweight champion is Christina Hammer who sports a record of 20-0 with 9 knockouts and 1 No Contest. She’s fought primarily in Germany and would need a promoter to begin building her name in the States in order to create a formidable foe for Shields in the future.
Shields has her eye on Hammer and her title. That fight could eventually happen but, in the interim, she’s going to have to knock down a few opponents when the opportunity to be on television presents itself. She could look toward the direction of Tori Nelson, a high pressure but relatively light punching fighter ranked #2 in the Super Middleweight class. Many fighters have avoided Nelson but Shields certainly wouldn’t steer clear of that fight. Maricela Cornejo is ranked #3 and could also factor in to Shields climb up the ladder. But who knows if either fighter will face her for little money and a high risk of losing.
But this is a start. Shields can’t overlook her opponent and have a subpar performance on Friday night. To look average would certainly slow down any momentum she has build up over the past year after turning pro.
If she’s able to pick up the victory on Friday night, it will be the first major step in Shields progression to become a national celebrity.