Shields’ victory should silence doubters

Lee Cleveland Updated
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When most people think of dinosaurs, the Tyrannosaurus Rex is probably one of the first to pop into mind. In contrast, when people think of women’s boxing, Claressa “T-Rex” Shields should definitely be the first name casual and mainstream fans mention.

Quite frankly, she’s earned it.

When first introduced to the mainstream sports world in 2016 by appearing in ESPN Magazine’s “Body Issue,” Shields had already won one gold medal and would go on to win one more, making her the first American boxer in history to win back-to-back gold medals. Winning in the Olympics is one thing, embarking on a successful professional career is vastly different.

With her dominant victory over Christina Hammer to become the undisputed women’s middleweight champion Saturday night, Shields answered many questions about her ability and the long-term viability of women’s boxing.

The questions regarding her experience were valid. Yes she was a middleweight champion. But with a record of only 8-0 with two knockouts, how much of the hype surrounding Shields was good matchmaking, allowing her to look spectacular with little to no risk? Against Hammer, a fellow middleweight champion with 24 victories and 11 knockouts, had Shields bitten off more than she could chew early in her professional career?

With each passing round, as she slipped past her taller opponent’s stellar jab and worked the inside —at one point causing Hammer to spit out her mouthpiece — the answer was a resounding “NO!” In fact, she looked like the veteran more than ready for her time in the spotlight. She moved in and out at will, controlling the pace while showing no nervous energy; in such control that on two occasions she had full conversations with her trainer, John David Jackson, between rounds. In the biggest fight of her career, she had the poise of someone who had been there before while showcasing skill that suggested to those watching that she’ll be atop women’s boxing for a long time.

Her unanimous decision victory — I scored it a shutout for Shields — proved more than just the skills the Flint, Michigan native possesses; it also showed that the popularity of women’s boxing is growing and will continue to grow. Was the fight Hardy Vincent 1? Maybe not. But the fact that the fight garnered mainstream coverage on Showtime up against two other fight cards solidifies a demand for women’s boxing. Let’s not forget the crowd in Atlantic City that roared with approval every time Shields landed a punch. It was not just Shields who took a huge step forward Saturday, but also a women’s boxing as a whole.

Where can women’s boxing go from here? Time will tell. As a somewhat young observer of boxing, I can only name a handful of female fighters. That needs to change and hopefully future Shields fights can bring about more exposure to women’s boxing matches. The fighters deserve their opportunity to show their talent and fans deserve to see it.

As far as what’s next for Shields? She wants to fight the undisputed welterweight champion Cecilia Braekhus ( 35-0, 9 KO). However, before that match materializes, Shields must first figure out the answer to a more pressing problem; how to carry the four belts awarded to her on Saturday.

It sounds like a great problem to have.


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