By Keith Idec
Claressa Shields survived a first-round knockdown Friday night to become a world champion in a second weight class.
The undefeated Shields quickly got up from that knockdown and mostly out-worked Hanna Gabriels over the remaining 9½ rounds in what was the most difficult fight of the two-time Olympic gold medalist’s brief pro career. The 23-year-old Shields (6-0, 2 KOs) won a 10-round unanimous decision against a game Gabriels to add two middleweight titles to her resume.
Judges Michael Ancona (98-91), Jeremy Hayes (97-92) and Pasquale Procopio (97-92) all scored the fight for Shields.
By winning, Shields claimed the vacant IBF and WBA middleweight championships in the main event of a “ShoBox: The New Generation” tripleheader from Masonic Temple in Detroit. Shields’ win should lead the Flint, Michigan, native to a middleweight title unification fight against WBC/WBO champ Christina Hammer (23-0, 10 KOs, 1 NC), who easily out-boxed Tori Nelson (17-2-3, 2 KOs) to win a 10-round unanimous decision on the undercard Friday night.
Shields and Hammer nearly got into a physical altercation in the ring following Shields’ win.
Whereas Shields moved down one division, from 168 pounds to 160, Costa Rica’s Gabriels (18-1-2, 11 KOs) moved up from 154 to 160 for the opportunity to upset Shields. Gabriels, 35, holds the WBA and WBO super welterweight titles.
“Well, for her to come up from [154 pounds], I see why she beat all the girls that’s smaller,” Shields told Showtime’s Steve Farhood in the ring. “She’s strong. She caught me with a shot in the first round and when I knew, I said, ‘OK, she just wanna move and, like I said, catch me off guard, and then land a big shot.’ After she landed the big shot, I was thinking to myself, ‘We still got it. Make sure you go out there, be smart, use your jab, move your head and tire her out.’
“I’d say in the sixth round, she started getting tired. I fought her some more. But, you know, she had some heart and she fought her ass off and she showed that she was a champion. But overall, like I said, I’m the greatest woman of all time. I can get put on my ass, get back up, fight 10 rounds and win.”
Before falling to Shields, Gabriels had lost only to Oxandia Castillo. The Dominican Republic’s Castillo knocked out Gabriels in the second round of their February 2013 bout, but Gabriels avenged that defeat by out-pointing Castillo by unanimous decision in the fight before she challenged Shields.
“[The knockdown] didn’t change my mind at all,” Gabriels said. “I kept working. She’s very fast and she does have a lot of power. You know, I’m a smaller kid and I’m probably feeling it more. But it was a great fight and I think the difference was – you have to trust the judges in this game and I’ll accept my loss with dignity. I gave my all.”
The 10th and final round was competitive, as Shields and Gabriels tried to knock each other out. Shields also suffered a cut under her left eye late in the 10th round, the consequence of an accidental clash of heads.
Shields seemed like the stronger, fresher fighter early in the ninth round. She cracked Gabriels with an overhand right when there were about 30 seconds to go in the ninth.
Shields complained to referee Gerard White after a clash of heads about 45 seconds into the eighth round. Shields drilled Gabriels with a left hook and added a straight right hand and a hard jab during the final 16 seconds of the eighth.
The first minute of the seventh round featured multiple exchanges that brought many fans to their feet.
Shields pressured Gabriels early in the sixth round, which caused Gabriels to hold her near the ropes. Gabriels snuck in an overhand right with just over 10 seconds left in the sixth, only to have Shields respond with two hard right hands and a left hook before the round ended.
Shields continued landing her right hand during the fifth round. By that point, Gabriels seemed tired and reluctant to engage.
Shields stalked Gabriels for much of the fourth round and landed a hard right hand late in it. Gabriels connected with a left hook with just over a minute left in the fourth round.
Gabriels landed a stiff jab when Shields was backed against the ropes late in the third round and followed it up with an overhand right.
Intent to regain Gabriels’ respect after getting dropped in the first round, Shields landed several hard right hands in the second round. A left hook around the one-minute mark of the second round moved Gabriels into the ropes.
Gabriels aggressively went after Shields at the start of their fight. She landed a right uppercut that floored Shields with 48 seconds to go in the first round.
Shields answered White’s count at three and seemed more surprised by getting dropped than hurt. White called for a break in the action with 12 seconds remaining in the first round, so that Shields’ trainer, John David Jackson, could reinsert her mouthpiece.
Shields’ mouthpiece came out when she went to the canvas.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.