It’s fight week for Claressa Shields
The march continues.
They’ve made strides before, receded, needed to re-group, re-activate the arguments as to why they should have a seat at the table.
Women’s boxing is on an upswing, and gets a big stage and bright lights on it Friday night, when Claressa Shields gloves up on Showtime, against Hanna Gabriels.
On paper, the 35-year-old Gabriels, out of Costa Rica, is Shields’ stiffest test as a pro. I checked in with the Michigan boxer, who boasts two Olympic golds to her trophy case.
Does this main event feel different, I wondered. Are the stakes higher? Or is a fight just a fight and prep is always the same high level?
“Well, coming down to 160 is different and each fight I feel bigger. This fight I’ll be fighting in front of 4,000 people. 4,000 people who are close to me, family friends and fans from all over the world so I’m excited. I prepare hard for every fight. I prepared even harder for this one. I’m looking to make a statement for myself, for women’s boxing, and for all women in sports!”
Dmitriy Salita is the event promoter; the scraps unfold in the Masonic Lodge in Detroit, a grand old building which screams history and grandeur. Christina Hammer (22-0) defends her WBC and WBO 160-pound straps against Tori Nelson, who Shields has already handled with ease, in the co-featured bout. Do the math—this leaves Shields, fighting for the vacant IBF and WBA 160-pound straps, on a collision course with Hammer.
June 22 looks like one of the largest women’s fight card of all time….and first time on premium television that a main event and co-main event is a woman’s card and all four belts will be on the line … does the immensity of this strike her? Or does she just stay in her lane and sorta block out the bigger picture stuff?
“I don’t get overwhelmed by the moment, but I do appreciate the magnitude of the moment,” said Shields. “Three unified women’s boxing champions on the same card – me at 168, Hammer at 160, and Gabriels at 154 — is special and historic. And with my fight against Gabriels for the WBA/IBF 160-lb titles and Hammer’s fight with Tori Nelson for the WBC/WBO 160 titles — yes, it will be very special. My fight with Hanna Gabriels (18-1-1) will be a great one for the fans, and it’s going to be a great fight between Hammer and Nelson. Let the best prepared win. As between me and Hammer….I’m focusing on my fight, not on Hammer. She should be doing the same, but she’s focusing on me because she’s intimidated and If I was her I would be intimidated by me too!”
Shields has had a training switch…What is her level of comfort with John David Jackson? Was it a solid fit right away, or did it take awhile to jell?
“I’ve got 100 percent comfort level with coach John David. He’s very professional and I love that he’s got a great sense of humor as well. We’ve had some hard weeks in camp together but the laughs have helped. After the first two weeks we got to know each other well and all was cool. He pushes me.”
And is there an adjustment and/or emotions associated with having the longtime trainer Jason Crutchfield not be along for this leg of the ride?
“I appreciate all that Jason did for me. But when it comes to boxing, I’m a professional athlete and I don’t think about that or let those things distract me. To be the best and stay on top, you have to have super focus. I just go full steam ahead, train and get ready.”
About Hanna Gabriels…how has she struck Shields in the lead up? Impressed? Unimpressed?
“I’ve just been training, working with coach John David and fixing my mistakes from my last fights. Hanna Gabriels is a great fighter and a champion – that’s why I wanted to fight her – and I give her props for stepping up and accepting the challenge. It’s great for women’s boxing. I’m truly looking forward to the showdown on Showtime.”
Me, I’m betting we see another level of Shields punching power, based off what I’ve heard she’s picked up from the Jackson sessions.
“I always look to improve, and I’m thrilled to be doing that with coach John David. Going down to 160 is definitely different for me but I set that as one of my goals so I’m going to achieve it. Coach John David and I have been working on my patience and my punch placement. I think the fans are going to like what they see on June 22.”
This event Saturday comes together because hope was translated into faith. Shields has no small amount of gratitude that she’s wanting to mention, in summation.
“Women’s boxing is at a new heights! I’d like to thank Showtime (Gordon Hall, Stephen Espinoza), my manager Mark Taffet and my promoter Dmitriy Salita (Salita Promotions) for believing in my insane drive and dream from the beginning of my pro career. Also I want to thank all my fans who are flying to Detroit, driving or just leaving home to come and support me live, and to all my fans around the country who will be watching live on Showtime. It means a lot to me! And thanks to you Michael for this opportunity to speak to my fans!”