When Claressa Shields routed Ivana Habazin last Friday to win a pair of vacant junior middleweight world titles in just her tenth bout, the two-time Olympic gold medalist made history.
Shields became the fastest fighter to win championships in three weight divisions, surpassing Vasiliy Lomachenko, who won a third title in just his 12th bout.
This didn’t sit well with some fans on social media, who felt it was unfair to compare the careers of men and women because of the occupational differences — the length of rounds, the pay, the pool of talent available.
Shields’ manager, Mark Taffet, a highly-respected former HBO executive who has guided her to the top of her sport, doesn’t understand the criticism and attributes it to an outdated way of thinking.
“Some people are fearful of change, some have their preconceived notions or biases,” Taffet told BoxingScene. “Anyone who is critical better get comfortable because there's lots more history to come from Claressa Shields.”
In fact, Taffet has a laundry-list of ambitious goals he wants to help Shields (10-0, 2 knockouts) accomplish, milestones that would probably infuriate the same fans who can’t seem to stomach Shields’ opinionated ways or the idea of a woman overstepping her lane.
But Team Shields has big plans, and the following are a sampling of what the precocious 24-year-old is eying in her future.
Let’s call these Claressa’s wish-list. They are almost cartoon-like in their audaciousness but considering what Shields has already accomplished, nothing appears off limits.
-Become a two-sport star like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders did in football and baseball: In her case, it would be boxing and mixed martial arts, which she is seriously considering. Taffet says she will likely visit with UFC star Jon Jones “in the next month” to work with him and then decide on a trainer to oversee her progress. “We will speak with the MMA organizations again and then make our plans,” he says.
-Be the first woman to headline a major Pay-Per-View, or whatever the economic model is for boxing in the future: Taffet used to run HBO PPV so he understands the shifting landscape of PPV and the advent of streaming content. But whatever technology is favored in the upcoming years, Shields will be headlining it, and she’ll make her mark faster than her male counterparts, he predicts.
“Whatever the economic engine is, Claressa Shields will be a part of it and will at the right time be one of the leaders in it,” he says. “Again, she's had just 10 pro fights. The great PPV stars of the past 30 years typically had 25 or more fights before they became economic engines. I think Claressa will get there faster than many of her male predecessors did.”
-Become undisputed champion in three weight divisions (or four or five): Shields has amassed all the belts at 160 pounds, and she’s unified two titles apiece at 168 pounds and at 154 after last Friday’s victory that headlined a Showtime card. Now, Taffet would like her to go hunting for the other titles at either 168 or 154 or in both divisions to further make history. Then Taffet’s imagination went into overdrive. “I love the thought of being a champion in four or five weight divisions,” he said. “While many might think that’s crazy, with Claressa it’s all possible.”
-Face the best fighters, even if it means dropping down in weight even more: Taffet likes the idea of Shields making history whenever she fights as a way to draw attention to her career and her accomplishments, but she could start running out of marquee opponents (or the fighters in her divisions may not be too eager to face her). So, based on how successfully Shields made 154 pounds last Friday, Taffet could see her dropping even more weight if it’s for the right opponent. A number of top fighters, such as Cecilia Braekhus, Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano are below 154 pounds, so Shields would have to venture south, and Taylor and Serrano would have to jump a few weight classes (Braekhus is a welterweight) to make those fight a reality. “I never thought I would say this,” he said, “but if she needs to drop a few more pounds to realize a goal, she could probably do it because I have learned never to say never when it comes to Claressa. But it would be to accomplish something very important.”
-Get recognized as the best pound-for-pound fighter, regardless of gender: While this seems a little far-fetched, given how skilled some of the men are, Taffet believes it’s in her wheelhouse. “That would be a huge milestone,” he said. “Her abilities can take her anywhere.”
Taffet thinks that when the 24-year-old hangs up her gloves, she has the potential to impact her sport like Billie Jean King did women’s tennis as an advocate for gender equality and social justice.
“She will eventually eliminate gender labels,” he began. “She will simply be referred to as a boxer rather than a female boxer. She will be universally recognized as a top pound-for-pound fighter regardless of gender. And she will continue to set records at faster paces and higher levels than any man that has preceded her. We will identify the fighters, the matchups, the points of history and we will put together a plan which meets the goals and standards of one of the most special athletic talents in the world.”