By Keith Idec
Even if HBO were to continue broadcasting boxing, the premium cable network’s tripleheader Saturday night wouldn’t serve as a preview of the biggest women’s boxing match that can be made.
Claressa Shields is more than willing to move down to 154 pounds to oppose undisputed welterweight champion Cecilia Braekhus. The problem for Shields – and, to some degree, women’s boxing – is that Braekhus isn’t interested in moving up to meet Shields in the middle for a fight that’d at least attract a lot of attention.
Former HBO Sports executive Mark Taffet, Shields’ manager, told BoxingScene.com that he and Dmitry Salita, Shields’ promoter, have been repeatedly rebuffed by Braekhus’ handlers in their attempts to make that fight.
“We have had many conversations with Cecilia and her team, including promoter Tom Loeffler,” Taffet said. “And what they have consistently said is she has to go up to 147 to fight at the weight class in which she holds the belts. She can’t fight a fighter who comes down one or two weight classes, to 154. It’s just too big of a size difference. And they said to us, ‘If Claressa Shields wants to come to 147, come talk to us.’ The truth is, even if we went to 147, I’m not sure if they would wanna do the fight. They believe there’s too significant a size difference.”
The 37-year-old Braekhus (34-0, 9 KOs) is set to defend her IBF, IBO, WBA, WBC and WBO welterweight titles against Aleksandra Magdziak-Lopes (18-4-3, 1 KO) in the main event Saturday night of HBO’s final live boxing offering.
The 23-year-old Shields (7-0, 2 KOs) also will be showcased during that “Boxing After Dark” telecast from StubHub Center in Carson, California. The IBF/WBA/WBC middleweight champ is scheduled to box Belgium’s Femke Hermans (9-1, 3 KOs) in a 10-rounder, Shields’ second fight in three weeks and the opener of HBO’s 10:20 p.m. ET/PT show.
If she wins Saturday night, Shields is expected to meet Germany’s Christina Hammer (23-0, 10 KOs, 1 NC) in their rescheduled middleweight title unification fight some time early in the spring. Should Shields overcome Hammer as well, Taffet hopes to convince Colombia’s Braekhus and her representatives to reconsider facing the two-time Olympic gold medalist from Flint, Michigan.
“Obviously, we’d love to see the fight,” Taffet said. “I keep reminding Tom Loeffler that we did Oscar De La Hoya-Manny Pacquiao. We at HBO Pay-Per-View were ridiculed when we announced that fight because Oscar De La Hoya was going to simply destroy, eat up and break apart Manny Pacquiao. And literally exactly the opposite happened that night. Manny Pacquiao destroyed Oscar De La Hoya. And I keep reminding the Braekhus team of that story. Sometimes, when you come down in weight you sacrifice so much you aren’t the fighter you were at the higher weights. And that’s a risk worth taking if you’re Cecilia Braekhus and you wanna make history. But I think there’s a part of them that feels Claressa is too big.
“Claressa is in this sport to be a game-changer, to make history and create equality for women visa vi men in boxing. She wants to be on the pound-for-pound list, regardless of gender. Not every fighter has those goals and objectives. Cecilia Braekhus has been a trailblazer. She basically has set the table for someone like Claressa Shields to now come in and break through the glass ceiling. So we love Cecilia, respect her and admire her. And we completely accept her and her team’s position on the weight difference and the reason they’re not pursuing the fight. So we just leave it at that. We fight Christina Hammer. After the Hammer fight, if Claressa is victorious, she’s gonna come down to 154 because she wants to win titles in three weight divisions.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.