Claressa Shields set to prove her greatness by fighting anyone, regardless of weight
Shields looks to add another name to her impressive collection of wins
For all of the attention lightweight champion and pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko has received in recent years by rising dramatically in weight and fighting for titles at such a historically quick pace, Claressa Shields isn't too far behind.
Like the Ukranian wizard, Shields (5-0, 2 KOs) is a two-time Olympic gold medalist. Unlike Lomachenko, however, the 23-year-old Shields is forced to carry her sport almost entirely on her own as the undisputed face of women's boxing.
In just her sixth pro fight on Friday, the unified super middleweight champion will move down to 160 pounds to face Hanna Gabriels (18-1-1, 11 KOs) for the vacant WBA and IBF middleweight titles in Detroit (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET) and has no shortage of confidence about how quickly she's willing to accept huge challenges.
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"Only the greats can do it, that is definitely for sure," Shields told. "I'm the greatest women's fighter of all time and I've been saying that before I turned pro, now that I'm pro and now that I'm winning titles. You have to be great to do these things early on in your career."
Shields, who won a world title in just her fourth pro fight last August, is more than happy to take on the pressure that comes with knowing any losses she might face in the ring might also mean a loss for the advancement of the sport for women.
Make no mistake, the stakes are high each time she steps into the ring and she knows it.
"I have to look good, I have to do great. Whenever I fight, I can't get in there and look average," Shields said. "The males have to worry about beating their opponent. I have to beat my opponent, beat the eyes to make [fans] like women's boxing. They have to like the way that I'm fighting. I have to be fast and strong. I have to have skill and be above the average man to even keep that attention. Sometimes it's a heavy load but I've been doing it for so long and I just believe in my power and my speed so that's what I stick with."
If there's a difference between the current landscape of women's boxing and the last time the sport was marketable 20 years ago, when fighters like Laila Ali and Christy Martin were regularly featured on television, Shields believes today's fighters are more talented and -- most importantly -- more willing to prove themselves.
"The major difference between now and then is that the big fights then didn't happen," Shields said. "Laila Ali did not fight Ann Wolfe. Christy Martin did not fight Lucia Rijker. Those are the big fights that were supposed to happen. Now we have me fighting Hanna Gabriels and hopefully fighting against Christina Hammer. We are taking the big fights and taking the risks."
It's a willingness to take those risks that Shields believes will ultimately set her apart from other female greats in history. Friday's return, in fact, is just another step of Shields' larger 'daring-to-be-great plan' in which she's going against the grain of a boxer's typical path to greatness by being willing to move down in weight (as opposed to up) in order to leave no stone unturned and take on the very best.
Should she defeat Daniels on Friday for a pair of middleweight titles, Shields expects to face unified 160-pound champion Christina Hammer of Germany in a marketable grudge match for all four titles.
Hammer (22-0, 10 KOs), who defends her titles in Friday's co-main event against former Shields victim Tori Nelson (17-1-3, 2 KOs), showcased her much-hyped combination of beauty and brawn last year when she entered the ring following Shields' first title win and engaged in trash talk.
Shields said she was told by Showtime officials to "play it safe" and be polite should Hammer enter the ring to hype a future fight between them. But she admits Hammer's words caught her off guard.
"I was like, 'OK, you all want me to be nice but she's talking s--- to me on live TV,'" Shields said. "I had to put her in her place and let them know after that I'm down for promoting the fight but I'm not down for disrespect. If that was her world title fight, I would've just jumped in the ring and said, 'Great fight, I look forward to fighting you in the future.' I wouldn't have jumped in and said, 'I'll beat you both.' It did add attention from the fans and myself, and got people excited for what she said. But I'm not worried about Christina Hammer."
Should Shields defeat Hammer, her plan would include moving down a second weight class to 154 pounds in hopes of truly cementing herself as the best in the world. Provided, of course, that reigning pound-for-pound queen Cecilia Braekhus (33-0, 9 KOs), who unified all four titles at welterweight, would be willing to move up in weight in order to chase greatness.
"That's the big fight that I want to happen but I think that's a bit much to call Cecilia [the best] pound for pound," Shields said. "I know she's ranked on that Ring magazine, but we all saw her fight on HBO in their first [televised] women's bout [in May] against Kali Reis [a decision win for Braekhus] and everyone knows now that she's not the pound-for-pound [best], I am. Just her skills and how she performed, that's not how a pound-for-pound performs and a pound-for-pound doesn't get dropped."
Shields, who is trained by former world champion John David Jackson, has regularly sparred with men ahead of Friday's fight, including former middleweight titleholder Matt Korobov. And she hopes her willingness to move around in weight -- she says 154 pounds is as low as she can cut and still be healthy -- will inspire others to do the same.
"[I'm doing this] just to stake that my claim is true, that I am the greatest woman of all time," Shields said. "Not just that I can win at 168 but that I can go down to 160 and 154, where they said the best talent is, and I can beat those girls too just to show that weight is only a number and skill and how you box is what determines whether you are pound-for-pound [best]. You can reign at one weight class and that's cool but can you go down or up in weight and still dominate at what you did in that weight class?
"My natural weight is 168. Yeah, I have to lose a little bit of weight now but I'll never lose my power and my speed and I want to show that the girls who are smaller still can't beat me."
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