By Michael Rosenthal
Claressa Shields: I have to be honest: I was more excited to see the Shohjahon Ergashev fight than the Shields-Tori Nelson matchup Saturday on Showtime.
That’s not a knock on Shields. It’s just difficult to get excited when a two-time Olympic champion as talented as she is faces an obscure 41-year-old who had fought only once in more than a year, even though Nelson is one of the better fighters in a shallow pool of bigger women.
Shields’ performance probably didn’t raise the fans’ enthusiasm level, either. She used her far superior ability and hand speed to dominate the tough, but limited Nelson (17-1-3, 2 knockouts) but never came close to putting her away. She won a shutout decision to retain her middleweight titles.
The best adjective I can come up with: Eh.
All that said, I think promoter Dmitry Salita, manager Mark Taffet and Showtime might have a small goldmine in Shields, who is fighting opponents like Nelson only to gain experience and set the table for a big 2018 and beyond.
There aren’t many big women who belong in the ring with Shields (5-0, 2 KOs) and the other top women near her size but two of them – Christina Hammer and Cecilia Braekhus – are on Shield’s dance card.
Now THOSE are matchups that will generate excitement among fans, even those who haven’t followed women’s boxing closely.
Hammer, a German-based Kazahkstani, can’t punch but she is skillful and holds two middleweight belts. Braekhus, a Colombian-born Norwegian, also wins with skill over power but is regarded as the No. 1 woman boxer and holds four major welterweight titles.
Victories over Hammer and Braekhus would turn Shields into the star her handlers believe she can be. And both fights could happen by next year.
Shields wants those fights to establish herself as one the elite fighters in the world, male or female. And the Europeans surely are attracted to the massive exposure on Showtime and the money that goes with it.
The plan apparently is to have Shields and Hammer fight on the same card in April and then fight one another in the summer, with Shields going down to 160 pounds. The hype has already begun for their showdown.
If Shields can win that fight – and it’s not a given – she’ll turn her attention to Braekhus, who would meet Shields at 154 pounds in another significant challenge. That showdown could happen late this year or next year.
The fact many journalists who have shied away from women’s boxing are following Shields’ career and writing about her is a testament to her ability and the work of her handlers. She’s in a unique position for an American woman, poised to take part in high-profile fights in the main events on premium cable.
Now it’s all up to Shields; she has to keep winning.
It’s too early to declare Ergashev (11-0, 11 KOs) the next great eastern European fighter but it was fun to watch his fight against then-unbeaten American Sonny Fredrickson (18-1, 12 KOs) as long as it lasted on the Shields-Nelson card. The Brooklyn-based Uzbek destroyed Fredrickson in two-plus rounds, enhancing his reputation as a fearsome power puncher. Fredrickson was a decent opponent. If Ergashev can do the same to a next-level opponent, then we’ll have good reason to be excited. … I hope Amir Khan’s new partnership with promoter Eddie Hearn means Khan, who hasn’t fought since May 2016, will be more active. We can debate the Englishman’s ability but he has always been an entertaining fighter. And I’m guessing he has plenty left at 31. I don’t know whether he can clean out the 147-pound division, as he stated he wants to do, but he’s dangerous for any opponent. I think Errol Spence (IBF titleholder) is a bad matchup for Khan but he could give Keith Thurman (WBA and WBC) trouble and would beat Jeff Horn (WBO). … Spence defends his title against Lamont Peterson this coming Saturday in Brooklyn on Showtime, the second fight in Peterson’s comeback. I think Peterson, 33, can still fight and is a legitimate opponent for Spence but he doesn’t have what it takes to derail one of the sport’s rising stars. This will be more of a showcase than a competitive fight for Spence. … The title-unification fight between Anthony Joshua and Joseph Parker is set for March 31 in Cardiff, Wales. I hope fans don’t expect a competitive fight. Parker is a decent fighter but the fact he holds a heavyweight belt is evidence of how shallow the heavyweight talent pool is. Expect an early knockout. The March 3 matchup between Deontay Wilder and Luis Ortiz is a much more competitive fight.