Maricela Cornejo recognizes that none of the numbers favor her entering her fight against Claressa Shields on Saturday night in Detroit.
The 28-year-old Shields is a three-division champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist who owns four middleweight titles, hasn’t lost in 6½ years as a pro (13-0) and is listed as at least a 45-1 favorite by most sportsbooks. Los Angeles’ Cornejo is 36, has an 0-3 record in world title fights, a 16-5 overall record and took their fight on approximately 10 days’ notice.
Cornejo is not the least bit intimidated, though, by what on paper appears to be her most daunting assignment since she made her pro debut in August 2012.
“Being an underdog doesn’t affect me at all,” Cornejo said Wednesday at a press conference at Little Caesars Arena, where she’ll challenge Shields in a main event DAZN will stream worldwide. “I’m gonna go put some money on myself. I knew I’d be the underdog. She’s got the titles, so I know what I have to do.”
Though this 10-round fight figures to be very difficult, Cornejo shouldn’t have too much trouble making the middleweight limit of 160 pounds. She was training for a 154-pound bout that was scheduled for June 6 when her team received a call last week to replace Hanna Gabriels as Shields’ opponent because Gabriels tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug (https://www.boxingscene.com/lou-dibella-applying-medication-her-dog-caused-gabriels-test-positive-clostebol--174888).
“I was getting ready for another fight on June the 6th, which was three days after this scheduled fight,” Cornejo said. “So, we were coming to an end of camp. This wasn’t a last-minute call for me, on my end, because I’m always ready. I’m always staying in the gym. I think Claressa knows as well, I’m in the gym, I stay in the gym. I live and breathe boxing. It’s not a part-time job [how] I take it. So, I’m ready for this opportunity and there’s no excuses come Saturday night.”
Cornejo had hoped to fight Natasha Jonas for the British southpaw’s IBF, WBC and WBO 154-pound championships later this year. She believed a victory over Jonas (13-2-1, 8 KOs) would’ve enabled her to move back up to the middleweight division to face Shields at some point in 2024, especially since she is the number one contender for Shields’ IBF, WBC and WBO middleweight crowns.
An appreciative Cornejo was nevertheless thrilled to adjust her schedule for this huge opportunity.
“I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is the perfect time for me to take this fight,” Cornejo said. “Some might think that it’s short notice, but I’m in tip-top shape.”
The 5-foot-10 Cornejo stands two inches taller than Shields and warned her heavily favored opponent that their fight will unfold far differently from how the odds suggest it will play out.
“She’s coming after me, so I’m fighting fire with fire,” Cornejo said. “There’s no backing down at all. It’s gonna take heart, endurance, everything and the kitchen sink. That’s the kind of fighter that Claressa is and I’m so ready for it.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.