This Friday (PPV, 9 PM EST), 25-year old two-time US Olympic Gold medalist Claressa Shields (10-0, 2 KO) will attempt to be the first boxer, man or woman, to unify the WBC, WBA, IBF, and WBO titles in two separate weight divisions. Currently still the lineal queen at middleweight, Shields will attempt to add the vacant WBA “super” title in the class as well as Marie Dicarie’s IBF strap (17-0, 0 KO) to the WBC and WBO Jr. middleweight belts she won against Ivana Habazin in January 2020.
The dominance of Shields, who won the WBC and IBF belts at super middleweight before moving down the scale first one and now two divisions, relative to the field is hard to understate. Friday’s fight represents a clash of Ring Magazine’s top two in the Jr. middleweight division as of the April 2021 issue.
Ring rates a top five in every women’s division from atomweight (102 lbs.) to super middleweight (168 lbs.). Shields already has a win over the third rated Jr. middleweight, Hanna Gabriels, as well as wins over the current number two super middleweight (WBC/WBO titlist Franchon Crews-Dezurn) and both of her top two contenders at middleweight (Christina Hammer, Tori Nelson). Assume Shields would be a heavy favorite over Ring’s number one rated super middleweight Elin Cederros (8-0, 4 KO) as well.
As in the men’s side of the sport, there is the fancy of pound-for-pound debate and the reality of the scale. Saul Alvarez might widely be considered the best boxer, pound for pound, in 2021 but the best boxer in the world in literal terms is a Tyson Fury who has Alvarez by about a foot of height and 100 lbs.
On the women’s side of the sport, while there are heavyweights, the functional top of the scale is 168 lbs. None of the major sanctioning bodies currently recognizes a champion above that limit, though they technically rate fighters at light heavyweight and above. With a win this weekend, Shields could be argued as the dominant force from 154 to 168 lbs.
Go ahead and make a pound-for-pound case for, say, Katie Taylor or Amanda Serrano as the pound-for-pound best. There is a case to be made, just as there is for Shields but the reality is Shields would likely be favored over any woman in the world right now in a real fight.
She is, in essence, the heavyweight champion of women’s boxing.
She’s literally the best in the world.
So far, it isn’t the most profitable position to be in.
Shields’ foray into pay-per-view this weekend is the beginning of a long play to try to expand her market and generate more revenue. How well it works this time remains to be seen. At just $29.99 to see the two best in their division go at it, it’s priced fairly and ultimately is a toe in the water. Shields, in interviews, has seemed realistic about the short and long play.
Along with a possible move to compete in MMA alongside boxing, some rhetorical sparring with Laila Ali, and an active social media presence, she’s trying to find ways to be out there and add reward to inherent risk.
Despite two gold medals, Shields still has only ten starts since turning pro in late 2016. At 25, time is on her side to create her market.
Along the way, she’ll need rivals. Showtime did a good job spotlighting her middleweight unification showdown with Hammer in 2019 but Hammer wasn’t up to it. Ring’s third rated middleweight and fifth rated super middleweight is probably the best immediate candidate should Shields defeat Dicarie on Friday.
29-year old UK native Savannah Marshall (9-0, 7 KO), who won the WBO middleweight belt Shields vacated last October, doesn’t quite have the amatuer credentials of Shields but they were nothing to sneeze at. Marshall appeared at two Olympics, though failed to medal in either, won Silver at the 2010 World Amateurs, and bronze at the 2016 tournament.
And in 2012, Marshall won Gold at the World tournament prior to the Olympics, handing Shields her only recorded loss as an amateur or professional to date to get there. The two already have a solid war of words. A war of fists seems inevitable. How big the pot will be by the time they get there is anyone’s guess.
For Shields, the best weapon toward her goals for bigger stardom will likely have as much to do with consistency as single rivals. Boxing fans tend to show up for winners who keep winning, eventually. They might show up to see them win some more, they might show up hoping they lose.
As long as they show up, checks grow.
Barring a full career move to MMA, Shields has a lot of years in front of her to make that happen. The longer she stays winning, the more likely it becomes.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com