Time to admit it- women's boxing needs a shot of life. Not since the days of Laila Ali have the headlines been dominated by any female boxer. And with boxing on the upswing, it is a wonder why when the talent clearly is there. It has been so bad that many of the best women fighters are leaving the game or moonlighting as mixed martial artists to keep their combat dreams alive.
Then came Claressa Shields. The Flint, Michigan native has an amazing story of triumph through multiple adversities and is the only American boxer to win an Olympic Gold Medal in the sport since Andre Ward at the Athens Olympics in 2004. Except Shields won it twice, back-to-back at the 2012 London and 2016 Rio games.
WATCH- Claressa Shields
Since turning pro, Shields is now 4-0 and already the holder of the WBC and IBF super middleweight titles. She boasts two knockouts, and the caliber of the destruction each time was brutal. It's easy to see how dominant she can truly be over her competition.
Still, the quandary lies in the level of competition for Shields at super middleweight and how she and her peers will be able to sustain a career when the audience for high-caliber women's fighting seems focused on the Octagon rather than the ring.
Shields will lace up the gloves this Friday, where she headlines the ShoBox: The Next Generation card from the Turning Stone Resort & Casino against Tori Nelson (17-0).
“I’m excited to be on Showtime as the first fight of the year, and just to be back inside the ring," said Shields at a recent open workout. "I feel I have been the face of women’s boxing for some time now. I don’t let it feel like pressure – I just work really hard in the gym."
Nelson has considerably more professional experience than Shields, and with one TKO over Mia St. John back in 2014, she's not exactly a killer. Popular opinion already favors the young Shields. It is that apathetic outlook which creates the biggest quandary for women's boxing: how do you drive interest?
The talent pool is deep. Take the undisputed champion Cecilia Braekhus or the Serrano Sisters, notably WBO super bantamweight champion Amanda Serrano. She has finished her last three opponents, has the style, the look, and is from a highly supportive Brooklyn Puerto Rican community. Still, she has yet to captivate the world stage enough to garner a headlining opportunity. And with a sister who boxes as well, even that novelty has worn thin on fans.
Serrano recently signed with Latin focused MMA promotion Combate Americas to try her luck where the spotlight shines brighter for women fighters. She joins Heather Hardy (20-0), who although has experienced a level of fame is also a Bellator MMA fighter that recently experienced an ugly TKO loss in October.
Challenge in Detroit: WBC/WBO boxing world champion Christina Hammer vs. WBC/IBF boxing world champion Claressa Shields. By Showtime / rbrboxing.
This Friday, there is another bout to watch before the Shields headliner: WBC and WBO middleweight champion Christina Hammer (22-0) is making her American debut. The German champion has been dominant for years and has an almost statuesque model presence to match her athletic prowess. The hope is that both Hammer and Shields win, setting up an epic showdown for Hammer's belts later this year.
“In 2018 I expect great fights against the best contenders. I expect to make history again on Showtime and also looking forward to dropping to 160 to fight against [Christina] Hammer mid-2018," said Shields. "January 12th will be the beginning of great things to come."
July 26, 2014 Christina Hammer gets dropped to the canvas by a series of punches, fails to recover then is eventually announced as the new women's jr middleweight champion via DQ over Anne Sophie Mathis
If Shields and Hammer can match up, it sets up Shields to become the greatest female boxer with a long amateur and short professional career span like Vasiliy Lomachenko. It also could signal the biggest women's boxing event during a time when in MMA, big women's events like Cris Cyborg vs. Holly Holm are doing pay-per-view.
Boxing needs Hammer vs. Shields like the men's heavyweight division needs Deontay Wilder vs. Anthony Joshua. And if it comes to fruition, Claressa Shields just might be able save women's boxing. Right about now, she seems like our only hope.