Claressa Shields has no problems in the boxing ring, but she has a problem with her boxing career.
At 25, the native of Flint, Mich., has already won two Olympic gold medals, and gone pro to dominate over 11 fights, winning titles at super middleweight and undisputed championships at both middleweight and junior middleweight. She achieved the latter this past Friday, routing Marie-Eve Dicaire over 10 rounds and facing no significant challenge from the previously-unbeaten Canadian.
The problem isn’t that Dicaire is bad, and that wasn’t the problem with Christina Hammer, Ivana Habazin, Hanna Gabriels (who did score a knockdown on Shields), Tori Nelson, Nikki Adler, or Franchon Crews-Dezurn, against whom Shields made her pro debut in 2016. Crews-Dezurn has gone on to become arguably the best super middleweight in the sport with Shields moving down in weight, seeking bigger fights.
Those are all, at worst, pretty good fighters, and so were a couple others Shields has faced. But they are good along the normal lines of where women’s boxing is at, especially between 154 and 168 pounds, divisions that don’t have the depth some of the lower weight classes down, and if we’re all being honest, depth is a major problem in women’s boxing in basically every division.
Shields is so much better than everyone she’s had available to fight that it’s almost unfair. And through no fault of her own, really, it’s also not particularly interesting. Nobody she has fought ever had much of a chance. And not many of them brought much personality to the fights, either.
She’s not even close to 30 yet, really, and Claressa Shields has basically done all she can do in pro boxing. There is no great flood of talent about to hit 154, 160, or 168 any time soon. There’s nobody worth bothering to fight over 168.
On Friday’s Salita Promotions-produced pay-per-view, Shields was asked by Dan Canobbio if she might fight at welterweight to meet Katie Taylor. It’s a weird question, first of all. Taylor is the undisputed lightweight champion, and has won titles at 140, but even for the idea of fighting ex-welterweight queen Cecilia Braekhus, Taylor said she doesn’t want to fight much above 140. The Taylor-Brakehus idea figured to be for a catchweight at 142 or 143, for the welterweight belts.
So the Shields-Taylor idea is asking Taylor to move up all the way to 147 and also asking Shields to move all the way down to 147, having already moved down twice in her career and cleaning out the divisions.
“Katie Taylor is not the worry, the 147 is,” Shields admitted. She called Katie a great fighter — and she is, they’re the top two women in the sport pound-for-pound — and also put a joking spin on it. “They gotta pay me a lot of money for me to lose my butt to go down to 147,” she added, before saying she’d have to get at least a $1 million purse to do it.
There is one fight Shields (11-0, 2 KO) can do that has some appeal to it: She can go back to middleweight and face Savannah Marshall, whose boxing career has been built off of being the one woman to beat Shields back when they were both amateurs, prior to the 2012 Olympics.
A Shields-Marshall rematch never happened in the amateur game because Marshall kept losing before she could get to one in tournaments they were both in. That’s just a fact. Shields was 17 when she lost to Marshall, who was just about to turn 21.
Frankly, my guess is Savannah Marshall beat Claressa Shields the one and only time she was ever going to beat Claressa Shields.
“Savannah Marshall can’t fuck with me,” Shields said on Friday after her fight. “Let’s keep it real. Savannah Marshall, you won a lucky decision when we was kids. I was 17. Also, London was hosting the Olympics. She knows.
“If you wanna blow about you beating me eight points to 14, come on now. Then you let me become champion in three different weight classes and you’re pro? Make it make sense. Savannah Marshall knows she cannot and will not ever be able to fuck with me. She can come to America, I can go to the UK, we can go to Mexico, wherever Savannah Marshall wants to go, I will fuck her up. Literally. She knows that.”
But Shields has a big-money demand for that fight, too, at least if she has to go to the United Kingdom — and in all seriousness, the fight is biggest in the United Kingdom, where Matchroom and Eddie Hearn would no doubt promote it extremely well.
“She’s scared of me. I’ve been wanting smoke for years. Savannah Marshall can get it,” Shields continued. “Tell Eddie Hearn, he came with that wack ass $250,000, he better come with $500K, $750K if he wants me to come over there and smoke his girl.”
Hearn is no stranger to what those on the outside would call “over-paying” fighters. But he’s also been a big proponent for women’s boxing; of all the truly major promoters, Hearn has invested in that side of the sport far more than anyone else. PBC have shown no interest. Golden Boy have done a little, but not a lot. Top Rank have Mikaela Mayer and that’s it.
Marshall (9-0, 7 KO) has the WBO middleweight title, and she also talks pretty well. And she’s got something vital to irk Shields with, too. There is money in that fight. How much, I can’t say, but it’s as big a fight as either of them can realistically make at this point.
Shields will also be exploring her combat sports options, as she plans to make her mixed martial arts (MMA) debut with PFL in June, then return to boxing in the late summer or early fall, and then maybe end the year with another MMA fight. It’s impossible if you’re not in camp with Shields to know how her MMA career will go, but the smart thing for PFL to do would frankly be to feed her people she’s going to beat for at least a few fights.
Former boxing champ Holly Holm made a very successful transition, eventually becoming a champion in UFC, but Holm took her time, too. She had a couple of low-level MMA fights in 2011 to get going. She made her way to a Bellator show in 2013, then fought a few more lesser shows until going to UFC in 2015. By then, Holm was a seven-fight MMA veteran, and she’d fully decided to make that her one and only focus. She last fought in boxing in 2013.
If Shields is serious about MMA, and wants to be a true, high-level success and possible star, she should approach it at least sort of the same way. It’s not an easy move to make, no matter how good you are at boxing (and Shields is really, really good). To become the money star she wants to be, Shields should avoid rushing things.
The good news, at her age, she has time to take it slow. And having already done basically all there is to do in pro boxing, she has the option to fully make the move to MMA and leave the sweet science behind.