It’s typical boxing that two of the United States’ biggest stars on the ladies’ side must go overseas for the biggest fights of their careers, but in the most important year in the history of women’s boxing, former Olympic teammates Claressa Shields and Mikaela Mayer don’t care. 

And why would they? In fighting Savannah Marshall and Alycia Baumgardner, respectively, at the O2 Arena in London, Shields and Mayer are in a place that appreciates the sweeter science, giving it a showcase it rarely had until 2022, when Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano set the bar high with their April SuperFight in Madison Square Garden.

In Taylor-Serrano, the Garden was louder than it’s been since Felix Trinidad fought there, and the combatants delivered with an epic battle that showed the world what women can do when given the platform and opportunity to succeed.

Frankly, that development took too long. 

Back in 1998, we’ll call it my formative years in the sport, I made the two-hour drive to Atlantic City to cover a pair of all-female cards, ones that have been largely forgotten, especially with the attention given Saturday’s card, which also features women’s boxing exclusively.

On those cards were some of the best fighters of that era – Kathy Collins, Jane Couch, the Webber sisters, Eva Young, Leona Brown, Deirdre Gogarty, Marischa Sjauw, Fredia Gibbs, Leah Mellinger, Anissa Zamarron and one of my all-time favorites, Jill “The Zion Lion” Matthews.

Ask a boxing fan today about that group, even a fan who calls themselves a follower of women’s boxing, and I’m guessing they may know Collins, who fought Christy Martin on the Trinidad-William Joppy card at MSG in 2001; Couch, who opened the door for women’s boxing in England; and Gogarty, who also fought Martin in the bout that put “The Coal Miner’s Daughter” on the map in 1996. The rest? Probably not. And with YouTube being no help in tracking down footage on some of those fighters, including the all-action Matthews, it’s almost forgotten what it took for women to now be headlining some of the most iconic venues in the world.

That’s unfortunate, and something key to point out before a couple fights that will shape what the sport looks like in the next few years. That’s how big this weekend’s card is for the sport. 

At 130 pounds, Mayer and Baumgardner square off for three of the four belts in the division, and while Hyun Mi Choi may hold the fourth title in the junior lightweight class, there is no serious fan of the sport who will consider anyone but the winner of Saturday’s bout as the true champion, especially with Choi ducking fights with both of her fellow beltholders. So simply on paper, this is an important bout. Stylistically, it also ticks all the boxers, with Mayer the boxer-puncher taking on the knockout artist in Baumgardner. But when you add in the stakes that go along with both being unafraid of engaging in a war of trash talk, this could be special, especially with neither fighter willing to let this marinate past its sell-by date.

“I appreciate everything, but now's the time because it's been brewing,” Baumgardner told me shortly after the fight was signed. “I've been wanting to fight Mikaela since the amateur days. Even when she turned pro, I'm like, this is perfect. I've been wanting to fight her. And so now that she's a world champion and I'm a world champion, it makes the story better, it makes the sport of boxing have more eyes on it to say, 'Hey, these are two great world champions fighting to unify the division, and you're definitely gonna see something different that you've never seen before.’”

“This is what I always wanted for women's boxing,” said Mayer. “I want the next generation, once they get to this level, to have big money on the line going up against top girls. And it's happening. As much as I dislike her, this is what I want for women's boxing, so I'm glad she's getting paid, but money talks. It's the biggest payday of her life and the biggest one she'll probably ever get after I beat her.”

Then there’s “T-Rex.”

Shields proclaimed herself the “GWOAT” long before she will make the walk to face the only person to beat her in a boxing ring in Marshall, and while there have been doubters to that claim, the Flint, Michigan native is well on the way to producing a resume that is impossible to argue with.

Two Olympic gold medals. Three divisional titles as a pro, two of them undisputed (and simultaneous) and the third seeing the unification of two belts, and she’s barely lost a round or two along the way. In fact, her dominance has been such that people have questioned her claims as the best to ever do it. And it’s true, the level of competition in the higher weight classes (from 154 to 168 pounds) isn’t as high as it is in the lower divisions, but Shields has fought the best in each and she’s made good fighters look like they don’t belong.

But there’s always been Marshall in the conversation, with a 2012 decision loss to the Brit a sticking point Shields has always wanted to clear away, and there’s no better way to do it than in a big fight with Marshall holding the WBO title at 160 pounds. Sure, the belts are nice, but it’s always seemed like Shields was chasing those trinkets for her trophy case and not the actual fighter she was throwing hands with for ten rounds. On Saturday, she probably could care less about that WBO belt. It’s Marshall she wants. Mix in the reality that many think the bigger fighter with knockout power – Marshall – is primed to get the win and, well, the 27-year-old Shields is more than a little motivated.

“To all of you that are doubting me, just make sure you apologize after the fight,” she said. “Say, ‘We were wrong.’ You don’t have to say, ‘You’re the GWOAT.’ Just say, ‘We were wrong, you’re the best and we respect you.’ And that you respect my hard work and my accomplishments because (Marshall) was the fluke. Her beating me in 2012 before the Olympics was the fluke of her career. That was her biggest achievement. After that, downhill. It wasn’t a fluke that I won the 2012 Olympics because I won it again, and I won the world championships three times after that. So, she was the fluke, and she’s still a fluke because she’s knocked out a whole bunch of bums.”

Fighting words that should have the boxing world eagerly anticipating the opening bell of both bouts, especially those in it who hope to one day follow in the footsteps of the four headliners. Back in 1998, this was a dream, a far-fetched one at that, but today, there’s the hope that these aren’t one-shot deals, but a consistent thing where women get the broadcast slots, the money, and the opportunities of their male counterparts. 

They’ve worked for it, they’ve earned it, and you can’t tell me that the quartet of Shields, Marshall, Mayer and Baumgardner aren’t stars, each in their own unique way. On Saturday, they get their shot, but for them, it’s not necessarily about promoting their sport. It’s about winning. 

And everybody loves a winner.