Claressa Shields became a two-division world champion, winning her biggest test to date as a professional boxer against Hanna Gabriels.
The two-time Olympic Gold Medalist Shields (6-0, 2 KOs) was knocked down for the first time in her career 53 seconds into the first round, but she was able to come back and win every round after that to become a two-division world champion. She captured the vacant IBF and WBA Middleweight World Championships against Gabriels, with one judge scoring the fight 98-91, and two others having it 97-92.
Hanna Gabriels sends @Claressashields to the canvas in round 1 #ShieldsGabriels https://t.co/kyC29W2PvM
Shields and Gabriels started the fight swinging furiously, but it was Gabriels (18-2-1, 11 KOs) who connected on a right uppercut that sent Shields to the canvas.
“Once I went down, I took a deep breath and I remember thinking to myself, ‘I’m about to whip this girl’ ” Shields said in the post-fight interview. “I just remember thinking, 'let’s use the jab and be smart.'"
Gabriels, a unified 154-pound titleholder, was coming up in weight and attempting to become a three-division world champion.
“I trained to go the distance but my heart betrayed me, because after that first knock down, I was looking for another one,” said Gabriels, the reigning WBA and WBO champion who was fighting in her 12th straight world title fight since winning the welterweight title in 2009. “I wanted to show everyone I had a warrior’s heart.
“I didn’t feel I had an advantage after the knockdown. I felt I had to work round after round to even have a possibility to win. She has a lot of power. It was a great fight and you have to accept the judges’ decision. She’s powerful and for the fans I think it went well."
@Claressashields defeats Hanna Gabriels via unanimous decision. #ShieldsGabriels https://t.co/3nF0hX1Ego
Shields suffered a cut on the left cheek in round 10, and also overcame a head butt. She recalled being hurt by Gabriels’ punches to the head just three times in the fight.
This was Shields' first fight with new trainer John David Jackson and his counsel might have made the difference. Shields' accuracy was superb, especially in terms of her power shots as she connected on 42 percent compared to Gabriels’ 26 percent.
She also left no qualms about her intentions in the sport.
“I can get put on my ass, get up and come back and win,” she said. “Tonight was my night and I have to show the world I’m the greatest of all-time. I showed who I am. Now, I’m really dangerous because you can even put me down, and I’ll still come back to win.”
Also on the card was her next potential opponent, Christina Hammer, who made her highly anticipated U.S. debut.
Hammer (23-0, 10 KOs) remained undefeated with a unanimous decision against Tori Nelson (17-2-3, 2 KOs) to retain her WBC and WBO Middleweight World Title belts.
“It would have been better to get a KO,” said the 27-year-old Hammer, who hails from Dortmund, Germany. “I’m really looking forward to fighting Claressa. She will try and fight me on the inside but my footwork and my reach will make the difference. The fight with Claressa will be a game-changer. It will be the biggest women’s fight ever. I would like to fight her at a neutral site.”
Shields was asked after the fight when she would like to face Hammer.
“Hopefully it’s next,” she said. “I don’t need no rest. I could have whipped her tonight. I’m just so sick of her and her whole team.”
@Claressashields vs. Christina Hammer, let's see it #ShieldsGabriels https://t.co/2jJHzoldg3
Hammer entered the ring after the Shields fight, and an emotional Shields pressed toward Hammer and some pushing and shoving ensued.
“I’m just tired of Hammer disrespecting me all the time,” Shields said. “She comes into the ring after all my rights, talks trash, and then she goes in there and looks like [crap] against Nelson. I’m sick of it. But I let her know I’m more than ready for a fight against her. She wanted me to lose tonight, but I wanted her to win because I want to fight her. We have to unify now.”