Claressa Shields was right all along.
For years, she told us that she was the “Greatest Woman Of All Time” (GWOAT) when it came to the sweeter science, and while there were many believers in that statement, there were just as many, if not more, skeptics.
How could Shields, with less than 15 fights, make such a claim, despite a pair of Olympic gold medals and professional world titles in three divisions, two of them undisputed?
“Ah, the talent pool is thin from 154 pounds up,” they said. “She hasn’t knocked anyone out,” was another blow to her argument.
“She’s no Lucia Rijker, Christy Martin, Laila Ali, Ann Wolfe, Regina Halmich or Holly Holm,” wrote defenders of those members of the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
But then came October 15, and an undisputed middleweight championship bout against Savannah Marshall. It was the biggest fight that could be made amongst the ladies at the moment, a clash between the seemingly unbeatable Shields and the one fighter to beat her (albeit in the amateur ranks) in Marshall.
It had all the elements of a SuperFight: a backstory, bad blood, unbeaten records and the top two talents in the division. Sort of like an Ali-Frazier I for the TikTok generation. Yet that’s not how Shields saw it when I spoke to her earlier this year for a story in The Ring magazine.
“My George Foreman is over there in Savannah Marshall,” said Shields. “I think every Ali needs a George Foreman. So I'm Ali and Savannah Marshall's my George Foreman.”
I wondered aloud if this was an intentional dig at Marshall, meaning that their series would be one and done, and not a trilogy like Ali-Frazier.
“I'm gonna smash Savannah Marshall up and after that she may yell for a rematch to get beat up again, but there’s not gonna be no rematches,” said Shields, who got Frazier instead of Foreman at the O2 Arena in London. But unlike the first matchup between “The Greatest” and “Smokin’ Joe,” it was Ali, aka Shields, who left the ring with the victory, pounding out a 10-round unanimous decision win that captivated fans around the globe from start to finish.
Each round, Marshall aggressively pursued Shields, looking to use her size and power to bully the Flint, Michigan native. Yet Shields wasn’t about to back down. Instead, she kept up a torrid work rate each step of the way, landing flush shots while taking whatever her foe threw at her. In the biggest year in the history of women’s boxing, Shields and Marshall did the sport proud.
Yet to many, it was Shields who was the revelation as she upped her pro record to 13-0.
We all knew she was good, perhaps the best female fighter on the planet in 2022, which is saying a lot when you consider that several members of the pound-for-pound list will likely find a place in Canastota one day.
Being the best in the world and being the best of all-time are two different things, though. Shields threw down that gauntlet that she was the GWOAT, and now she had the opportunity to back it up. Sure, the 27-year-old’s accolades were rock solid and undeniable, and, as I said before the fight, she has made good fighters look ordinary, like they didn’t even belong in the ring with her.
But, to me, there was never that “wow” fight against a top-level foe. Shields wasn’t blasting opponents out like Amanda Serrano was, wasn’t coming up big in the big moments like Katie Taylor and Jessica McCaskill were.
Part of that was due to her opponents. Christina Hammer was supposed to be the nemesis that pushed Shields and set up a trilogy to define the sport.
98-92, 98-91, 98-91 were the three scores in Shields’ favor in a 2019 SuperFight that fizzled.
Marie Eve Dicaire and Ema Kozin were a combined 38-0-1 before facing Shields. Neither won a single round on any judge’s scorecard in their bouts against her.
Maybe Shields was that good, maybe her opposition wasn’t what it was hyped up to be. Whatever it was, Shields wasn’t going to show us greatness until she was backed into a corner against someone who not only showed up to win but had the skills to do it.
That was Savannah Marshall. And when forced to fight – really fight - for her titles and her unbeaten record – Shields showed us how great she really is.
It’s not easy to write that, especially as someone who hates having the all-time great conversation about anyone in any sport until their career is done, but sometimes things are so obvious that you can’t ignore them.
Question: Can Claressa Shields win a dogfight?
Question: Can Claressa Shields take a punch from a legitimate power hitter?
Question: Can Claressa Shields make the necessary adjustments in a fight where she’s the nail and not the hammer?
Question: Is Claressa Shields the GWOAT?
She’s got all the titles and medals, fought everybody of note in three divisions in her era thus far, defeated them all, hasn’t ducked a challenge, proved she can stare down adversity and beat it, and she hasn’t turned 30 yet.
Those are facts even the most hardened skeptics can’t ignore. But most importantly, when the stakes were at their highest against her toughest foe to date, Shields lifted her game to a new level. Just like she told me she would when we chatted earlier this year.
“I'm not afraid to take those tough fights,” she said. “You put somebody in there with me who's good, I'm gonna show you I'm great. Put me in there with somebody who you think is great, I'm gonna show you that I'm phenomenal.”