by Cliff Rold
Pick It: Claressa Shields vs. Hanna Gabriels (Saturday, Showtime, 10 PM EST)
A showdown is brewing on the women’s side of the sport.
Two-time US Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields (5-0, 2 KO) is moving down the scale after winning a pair of belts in the super middleweight division. Friday, she’ll go for two more titles in the more competitive middleweight division. The vacant WBA and IBF belts are on the line in a clash with Costa Rica’s Hanna Gabriels (18-1-1, 11 KO). Gabriels is the reigning WBA/WBO titlist at 154 lbs. and looks on paper to be the toughest foe to date for Shields. Gabriels has won five straight, avenging a knockout loss to Oxandia Castillo in her last outing. If Shields wins, pay attention to the undercard. Unified WBO/WBC middleweight titlist Christina Hammer (22-0, 10 KO) defends against former WBC middleweight titlist Tori Nelson (17-1-3, 2 KO). Nelson took her first loss to Shields in January. It’s classic boxing comparison shopping as interest builds for what everyone hopes will be a Shields-Hammer clash down the road.
Additional Show to Watch For
Saturday – ESPN+ (2:30 PM EST): Murray vs. Garcia
Former title challenge Martin Murray (36-4-1, 17 KO) thought he had one more title shot in his future. WBO middleweight titlist Billy Joe Saunders claimed an injury and Murray instead gets the veteran Roberto Garcia (41-3, 24 KO). Garcia has won thirteen straight since a decision loss to Antonio Margarito in 2010. Murray is his best opponent since that loss so fourteen might be hard to come by.
Saturday – ESPN2/ESPN Deportes (8 PM EST): Ortiz vs. Salgado
20-year old Jr. welterweight Vergil Ortiz (9-0, 9 KO) looks like he’s on the fast track. The big punching youngster is facing his first former titlist and, while faded, Juan Carlos Salgado (27-8-1, 16 KO) should be a good gauge of where Ortiz is. Salgado, the first man to defeat Jorge Linares, has lost seven of his last eight. He’s a stepping-stone in 2018. Can Ortiz make the step? Undercard action starts on WatchESPN at 6:30 PM EST.
Saturday – ESPN+ (11 PM EST): Berchelt vs. Barros
WBC super featherweight titlist Miguel Berchelt (33-1, 29 KO) made an impression in two HBO appearances last year but is treading water for the second fight in a row. Jonathan Barros (41-5-1, 22 KO) is a solid pro from Argentina but he enters off a loss at featherweight to Lee Selby and has seen better days. A one-time WBA sub-titlist at featherweight, Barros has a chance to keep his career relevant and win his first real title.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]