By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Think Vasyl Lomachenko is the premier authority on a quick transition from amateur ring success to professional stardom?
Then Claressa Shields has a simple message for you:
Hold my beer.
The confident Michigander mirrored the Ukrainian's dual Olympic golds with wins at the 2012 and 2016 Games -- and has climbed the punch-for-pay ladder at an even more prolific rate than Loma since a celebrated Las Vegas debut just 437 days ago.
She added a second win and a regional title belt in less than four months and had already captured a pair of world super middleweight titles well before her precocious career arrived at the one-year mark.
Along the way, too, a main event appearance on Showtime and near consensus acclaim as the biggest thing in women's boxing.
Less than seven weeks shy of turning 23, Shields does concede to being surprised by the suddenness of it all.
Even though it was pretty much expected from the start.
"It's always been a good time to be me," she said. "I already knew that my career was gonna take off once I turned pro. But it did go a lot faster than what I thought.
"I saw myself fighting a main event on Showtime within a year, and I did that within being pro three or four months. And also me winning a world title, I thought that would be within a year also, but it came in my fourth professional fight.
"It all just kinda happened really fast. Fighting a main event on Showtime was good enough for me, with it being so early. But then, knowing I'm gonna fight a world champion who's 16-0 with nine knockouts -- and she's gonna come to America to defend her title against me -- it was like, 'Whoa! Yeah, right.' Everything was a surprise to me. I had no idea."
Now 5-0 with a pair of KOs and a title defense, Shields embraces her role as the latest savior of a sport that's veered between gimmick, sideshow and steppingstone since Christy Martin was a staple on Don King undercards in the mid-1990s.
It was "near dead" prior to her arrival, she said, but it'll thrive going forward thanks to the depth of actual fighting talent -- and absence of stand-ins concerned only with using it to further other career ambitions.
"I felt like there were some good women before me, but I don't think they had the resume and they didn't have as much skill," Shields said. "There's a different set of skills in professional boxing than there was a few years ago. Even the women that Laila Ali fought against weren't as powerful or as strong as the women we have out there today.
"Now you have women who are pro who've been to the Olympics, been to the world championships, medaled in the world championships, fought in USA nationals and fought abroad.
"That's what raises the bar."
As for those insisting men are the only elites and women are forever on the second-tier, the 5-foot-8 Shields would even consider -- under the right matchmaking circumstances -- proving her superiority in a head-to-head competition.
Give her an agreed-upon weight advantage, and the requisite paycheck, in fact, and it's a done deal. Not something she's seeking out, but not a challenge she'd run from if it made sense.
"I don't feel like I need to fight a man in order for my career to be at the top," she said. "If you look at the footage and you put all the 'Women need to be in the kitchen and raising babies' things out of your mind, then you will actually see that boxing is for women -- women boxing against other women fighters."
"I spar guys all the time. I already know that I can beat a guy up. I'm not in it to prove that. But if a guy ever wanted to fight me or have me get in a ring with a man, if he's 147 I'll get in the ring and kick his ass. If the guy ain't got skills I'm definitely going to get in there and kick his ass if the money is right."
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Weekly title-fight schedule:
IBF cruiserweight title -- Adler, Russia
Murat Gassiev (champion/No. 4 IWBR) vs. Yunier Dorticos (Unranked IBF/No. 6 IWBR)
Gassiev (25-0, 18 KO): Second title defense; Ten KOs in 17 fights in Russia (17-0, 10 KO)
Dorticos (22-0, 21 KO): Second title fight (1-0); Second fight outside the U.S. (1-0, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Gassiev hasn't got Dorticos' resume as a banger, but he seems the more versatile big man and should illustrate the gap in later rounds. Gassiev in 10
IBF junior bantamweight title -- Corpus Christi, Texas
Jerwin Ancajas (champion/No. 8 IWBR) vs. Israel Gonzalez (No. 9 IBF/No. 41 IWBR)
Ancajas (28-1-1, 19 KO): Fourth title defense; KO wins in three title defenses (20 total rounds)
Gonzalez (21-1, 8 KO): First title fight; First fight outside of Mexico
Fitzbitz says: Gonzalez's resume gives the impression that he's not on a title-winning level, and it'll show when matched against a guy who's thrived as champ. Ancajas by decision
WBO super middleweight title -- Corpus Christi, Texas
Gilberto Ramirez (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Habib Ahmed (No. 4 WBO/Unranked IWBR)
Ramirez (36-0, 24 KO): Third title defense; Fourth fight in Texas (3-0, 2 KO)
Ahmed (25-0-1, 17 KO): First title fight; First fight outside of Ghana
Fitzbitz says: Ahmed may indeed be a respectable pro, but considering his last three foes had 42 losses between them -- he's got zero business in with Ramirez. Ramirez in 7
WBC flyweight title -- Naha, Japan
Daigo Higa (champion/No. 3 IWBR) vs. Moises Fuentes (No. 9 WBC/No. 5 IWBR)
Higa (14-0, 14 KO): Second title defense; Never past Round 7 in four 12-round fights (21 total rounds)
Fuentes (25-4-1, 14 KO): Seventh title fight (3-2-1); Held WBO title at 105 (2011-12, two title defenses)
Fitzbitz says: Fuentes has been on a high level at 105 and 108 pounds, but moving to 112 against a guy with Higa's offensive prowess is a high bar to jump. He won't. Higa in 9
Last week's picks: 3-0 (WIN: Tagoe, Linares, Usyk)
2018 picks record: 6-0 (100 percent)
Overall picks record: 927-304 (75.3 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.