Tired of waiting for a date to fight on a network, Claressa Shields and her team determined it was time to gamble on the most accomplished female fighter in boxing.
They had hoped Showtime would reschedule Shields’ fight against Marie-Eve Dicaire for some point by the end of 2020. When they couldn’t come to restructured terms on the deal they had made for Showtime to air Shields-Dicaire last May 9, Dmitriy Salita, Shields’ promoter, and Mark Taffet, Shields’ manager, shopped Shields-Dicaire to various networks and streaming services.
Once they felt as though they had explored every option in the United States, they decided to have Shields headline her first pay-per-view show – an all-women’s card Friday night in Flint, Michigan, Shields’ hometown.
It is obviously risky business – even at a lower price point of $29.99. COVID-19 restrictions will limit attendance to approximately 250 people at Dort Federal Credit Union Event Center, which means they won’t make nearly as much in gate revenue as they expected when they first scheduled the event last spring.
The confident, proud Shields (10-0, 2 KOs) hopes producing a respectable number of pay-per-view buys will validate what she feels she is worth to network and streaming service executives. Shields admits, however, that not finding a traditional broadcast or streaming home for her 154-pound title unification fight against Quebec’s Dicaire (17-0, 0 KOs) was hurtful.
“It’s been a very emotional year,” Shields told BoxingScene.com. “You know, not just with COVID, but when the world opened back up a little bit I was expecting to fight. Just to be put on the back burner and kind of ignored, it was heartbreaking to deal with because I’ve accomplished so much and I’m seeing other fighters get opportunities that I know were my opportunities. I’m just happy that now I’m able to get past that and have a better year this year. I’m not gonna sit around and wait on the networks to give me a date. I have to go out here and show women that we have to do things ourselves, and this is the best way to do it.”
Shields, 25, will attempt to become a fully unified champion in a second division in the main event of a four-fight telecast (9 p.m. EST; www.FITE.tv; most cable and satellite providers).
The two-time Olympic gold medalist soundly defeated previously unbeaten German Christina Hammer (26-1, 12 KOs, 1 NC) on points to become the undisputed middleweight champion in April 2019 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. She moved down to junior middleweight for her subsequent bout and dominated Croatia’s Ivana Habazin (20-4, 7 KOs) in another 10-rounder to become a three-division champion by winning the WBC and WBO 154-pound crowns.
Shields, the self-proclaimed GWOAT (Greatest Woman of All Time), will defend those two titles against Dicaire, a southpaw who owns the IBF belt. They’ll also fight for the WBA “super” championship in this 10-rounder.
Salita still can’t believe they couldn’t convince a single network executive to buy it.
“It is extremely disappointing,” Salita said. “You could say that women’s boxing got hurt disproportionately as a result of the pandemic. With great power comes great responsibility, so you know, there are only a couple of stores in town that pay for business. And there was no way to get Claressa – who’s the greatest American fighter of all time – on TV. That’s the truth. So, there was nothing else for us to do [other than pay-per-view]. As a promoter, I believe it’s my responsibility to Claressa and the other fighters I represent to create new possibilities. When people say no, and I believe in the talent of Claressa, you have to look for new possibilities and new avenues and new revenues, any place to do the business. And that’s what we did because there was nothing else we could do.
“We really knocked on every door several times, and those doors were not opened. We’ve had discussions with different outlets. Some were new to boxing to an extent, and some that are in boxing. And nothing came to fruition. It was very surprising. And it’s not right that the best female fighter in the world cannot get a date on American television.”
Showtime has televised six of Shields’ 10 professional fights and embraced showcasing her on that premium cable network.
Her 10-round, unanimous-decision defeat of Hanna Gabriels (20-2-1, 11 KOs) was viewed by a peak audience of 410,000 and an average audience of 376,000 in June 2018. Shields’ victory over Hammer in the biggest fight of her career averaged 339,000 viewers and peaked at 369,000.
Her most recent fight on Showtime, the aforementioned defeat of Habazin almost 14 months ago in Atlantic City, drew lower viewership than those two appearances (peak: 288,000; average: 255,000).
The outspoken Shields assumed her history with Showtime would’ve warranted televising her fight against Dicaire. Instead, her purse Friday night depends largely on her cut from each pay-per-view purchase.
Shields still has tried to take a positive approach to her unforeseen debut as a pay-per-view headliner.
“A pay-per-view card with all women, I think this is great,” Shield said. “I think this will start a wave to show them, ‘Hey, there’s a lot of other great women that can do this.’ Like Amanda Serrano, she has a huge fan base and she can fight against other champions. I think this can be a new wave for us, so we can dictate how much we get paid and how much we don’t. You know, some of these networks tell us, ‘You’re not worth a million dollars. You’re not worth $500,000.’
“But if you go out there and you get the numbers, you are worth that. And I know that I’ve gotten over 430K views, over 450K views on Showtime, and my highest purse was $350,000. So, the numbers should be more, and I think that this should just start where we can gauge and see what we have to do to build our sport. You know, because boxing is boxing, but we’re also women and we’re not respected as much yet. But this is the way it starts.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.