By Keith Idec
Stephen Espinoza didn’t expect Claressa Shields to advance as quickly as she has since she made her pro debut less than 14 months ago.
The 22-year-old Shields won the IBF and WBC super middleweight championships in her fourth professional fight. On Friday night, she’ll headline a “ShoBox: The New Generation” card for the third time in only the fifth fight of her pro career.
If the two-time Olympic gold medalist defeats Tori Nelson (17-0-3, 2 KOs) in Verona, New York, she’ll take another step toward a fight later this year against unbeaten WBC/WBO middleweight champ Christina Hammer (22-0, 10 KOs, 1 NC). Espinoza, Showtime Sports’ executive vice president and general manager, is among many Shields has impressed with her successful start.
“She has progressed a lot more quickly than any of us expected,” Espinoza told BoxingScene.com. “When we started working with her, we didn’t really expect that she would be headlining ‘ShoBox’ cards so quickly or that she’d be winning a title as quickly as she has. But she’s got a lot of really great assets. She’s got a great story, she’s really outgoing and personable, and perhaps most important to us, she’s a really entertaining fighter.”
Shields destroyed previously undefeated Nikki Adler in her last fight. The Flint, Michigan, native won her two titles by stopping Adler (16-1, 9 KOs) in the fifth round August 4 at MGM Grand in Detroit.
“You can see she has made a tremendous amount of progress thus far even in her short professional career,” Espinoza said. “You can tell that she’s a really top-tier athlete because, as strange as it sounds, she has gotten better every fight. And I think she’s even a much more talented and skilled fighter now than she was early in 2017.
“I think the sky is the limit for her. The pace of her career is going at a very fast clip, so there’s nothing that isn’t on the table for her in any weight class that’s not in the general vicinity of where she is now.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.