Claressa Shields unifies second division but it’s important to put her achievements in context
CLARESSA SHIELDS, in her unofficial role as spokesperson for boxing history, claims she’s the greatest female fighter who ever lived. Plenty don’t agree – like her old amateur rival Savanah Marshall – but in true Floyd Mayweather style, she plucked more gold for her collection, outclassed another inferior titlist and then demanded some respect.
The headline elsewhere is that she’s now the first fighter in the four-belt era – male or female – to become an undisputed champion in two weight classes. That’s indeed a fact but, for a bit of context, the cumulative four belts have only been on offer in the women’s code for eight years, there’s been numerous two and three-weight world champions prior to sanctioning bodies coming along and over-complicating matters and she’s one of 1,463 active female fighters compared to 20,348 men. That’s not to downplay her significant achievement, more a reminder to not get too carried away.
More food for thought: Canada’s Marie-Eve Decarie, who Shields defeated in her Flint hometown via three scores of 100-90 over 10 two-minute rounds, didn’t start boxing until the age of 29, was some way below Shields when it came to boxing ability and was a massive underdog going in.
Though the female code is on a steep upward trajectory one suspects the standards that are being set today are just the start rather than superhuman feats of greatness. None of this is Shield’s fault, of course. She is a tremendous boxer who has done wonders for the female code. The men should look to Shields as inspiration; it is exceptionally refreshing to be able to say one fighter is the best in a given weight class without argument.
“[The scores were] 90-100, I can’t be mad about it,” a slightly frustrated Shields said during her post-fight interview. “But she just kept head-butting me and elbowing me. And I was trying to get the knockout. That’s really what I wanted, and I almost had it a couple times. But we got two minutes and then we got the ref breaking up the fight every 30 seconds when she’s holding and f**king elbowing me and stuff.
“I’m happy, but I still wanted the KO, and I just didn’t have enough time.”
Shields – who is unquestionably an exceptional talent – dominated from the opening bell though that knockout she craved never really looked likely. The argument for three-minute rounds is a valid one; several times she stung Decarie only for the bell to sound when it appeared she might tumble into real trouble.
A series of right hands stunned Decarie in the third round and a left knocked her off balance in the fourth. In the sixth Shields broke through with a swift one-two and Decarie stumbled again.
The favourite cruised to victory with minimal arguments coming back, though the Canadian did fight with some enthusiasm in the final round. Even then, Shields was far too good.
“I’m happy, but I still wanted the KO, and I just didn’t have enough time,” said the victor. “But at the end of the day, I am the new undisputed champion at 154, the first boxer to do it in history – undisputed twice. And I did it here in Flint, Michigan, so to all the people in Flint, I love y’all. Thank y’all for coming. Everybody who ordered the pay-per-view, thank you so much. Hopefully, I didn’t disappoint. I don’t think I did.”
Shields can now tick being undisputed champion off her list of to-dos. That task is well and truly completed. What she needs is not more belts but more tests. She can scream about greatness but it will only come when she’s taken on and beaten an opponent deemed a genuine threat. Savanah Marshall, who defeated Shields in the amateurs, would be just the ticket in that regard.
Before that can happen Shields moves to MMA in June. One hopes that she returns to boxing to take on Marshall in a contest that could really take women’s boxing to the next level.