Claressa Shields considers Maricela Cornejo and Hanna Gabriels comparable opponents, but she suspects Cornejo will be a fresher fighter when they meet Saturday night in Detroit.
Costa Rica’s Gabriels is 40 and has boxed just three times since Shields defeated her by unanimous decision almost five years ago. Los Angeles’ Cornejo has been much more active in recent years and impressed Shields by jumping at the opportunity to replace Gabriels on approximately 10 days’ notice once Gabriels tested positive for a banned substance (https://www.boxingscene.com/lou-dibella-applying-medication-her-dog-caused-gabriels-test-positive-clostebol--174888).
Shields (13-0, 2 KOs) will defend her IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO middleweight titles against Cornejo (16-5, 6 KOs) in a main event DAZN will stream worldwide from Little Caesars Arena (9 p.m. EDT).
“I feel like they’re on the same level, as far as their skills,” Shields told BoxingScene.com. “But Maricela is taller, she’s longer and she’s younger, so she may have stronger and fresher legs. I’m just happy she accepted the fight on 10 days’ notice. You know, when Hanna Gabriels tested positive I was just happy we were able to get past that and that this fight is still going on, that I have another opponent. I had a very, very hard training camp, so I was planning on punishing Hanna Gabriels. Sadly, I’ve gotta punish Maricela the same way.”
Shields, 28, and Cornejo, 36, have had the same amount of time to prepare for one another. They’re both in peak condition as well, even though Cornejo took this fight on such short notice.
Cornejo was training for a June 6 fight when her team was contacted to step in for Gabriels (21-2-1, 12 KOs). Cornejo also is the number one contender for Shields’ IBF, WBC and WBO 160-pound championships, which made her a sensible fit to replace Gabriels.
To avoid disrupting her training camp, Shields’ handlers didn’t inform the three-division champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist of Gabriels’ situation until Cornejo committed to take the fight last week.
“Actually, I wasn’t notified until three days after everybody knew,” Shields said of Gabriels’ failed tests. “You know, no one had told me anything until they had a replacement opponent. So, I didn’t have to go through all those feelings of, ‘Oh, the fight may be off.’ They called me like, ‘We’ve got some bad news for you. We’ve been working on it the last three, four days.’ I’m like, ‘What?’ And they’re like, ‘Hanna Gabriels tested positive for a banned substance. But you’re fighting Maricela Cornejo.’ And I was like, ‘OK, great.’
“So, I didn’t have to go through the whole, ‘Oh, no! I don’t have an opponent! She tested positive! There’s no fight!’ I didn’t have to go through that, thank God. That’s what the team is for, to protect me. I would’ve been devastated if they hit me up on the first day, while I’m training, losing weight and eating healthy and everything, getting prepared for the fight, and told me about Hanna Gabriels.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.