Undisputed champ Claressa Shields finds clarity beyond anger
The gnawing uneasiness seems over. Claressa Shields, the women’s undisputed world middleweight champion, admits that she once felt constant eyes on her. That no matter what she achieved in the ring, it was never enough.
It’s why she was so emotional after her greatest performance to date, a 10-round unanimous decision over England’s Savannah Marshall — the last woman to beat her, 10 years ago — at the O2 Arena in London on October 15 by official scores of 97-93 and 96-94 (twice). Shields (13-0, 2 knockouts) entered the ring that night with the Ring, IBF, WBA and WBC 160-pound titles and left with the addition of Marshall’s WBO belt.
“I’ve been working hard for a very long time, and no one has given me credit,” said Shields tearfully in her post-fight interview.
The boxing world is showering her with accolades now.
Shields, 27, had a candid conversation with The Ring on Monday. She spoke about how much she’s grown up in the sport since she was 17 and how she’s transformed from an angry girl to a focused woman who is evolving into the greatest female boxer of all time.
She could retire tomorrow, and she’ll be heading to the Hall of Fame. She has a street named after her in her native Flint, Michigan. There is a bronze statue of her in Flint. On October 20, the 1,500-capacity Capitol Theatre was sold out for a film compilation of her career. As she viewed the film, Shields said it was if she was watching someone else, like a younger sister, not her.
“When I go back to when I was 17, I didn’t care about anything but boxing,” Shields said. “When someone said anything about me or tried to discredit me or said anything bad about me and my boxing, I took it very personally. My responses were always having to defend my greatness. It’s reached a point where now I’ve proven that. I’m a world champ. I’m the best and I’ve beaten the best. Early on, I would hear people saying, ‘You might have beaten this person, but you’re still not as great as this fighter or as great as that fighter.’
“I still felt I was mad a lot in the beginning of my career, especially after turning pro. I have two Olympic gold medals, I have world titles, and I was still hearing how I wasn’t good enough. I was accomplishing all these things and I wasn’t getting what I felt I deserved. I was having some success, but not the success I wanted. I beat Christina Hammer, and I thought that fight would carry me over. It didn’t. I thought after beating Ivana Habazin to become a [three-division titlist], I thought that was the fight that was going to carry me over, and it wasn’t. I thought there was no woman in the world that can beat me in boxing.”
As she got older, she began realizing it did not matter what others thought. It only mattered what she thought of herself.
“That’s when the change came,” she said. “It’s when I let go of a lot of my anger. I put some of that [positivity] towards my surroundings, my fiancé, towards my team [believing in me for two years]. I started really working on myself and working on my own anger. I started working on being a better me. I think it’s what everyone sees now. It’s always had that in me. I was just angry. The negativity used to drive me. I think more positive now. It’s the positives that drive me.
“I’m the greatest of all time. You can agree. You can disagree. But I know. It’s why I feel less stress and less anger. I think with more clarity.”
The last time Shields lost was when she was 17, against Marshall (12-1, 10 KOs) in the 2012 AIBA Women’s World championships. After Shields beat her in England, Marshall openly admitted she lost to Shields.
“After having that cloud over my career for the past 10 years … and I won two Olympic gold medals, and the world (amateur) championships, and I won world championships as a pro, and I still had that [Marshall loss] still looming over me,” said Shields, who wants to fight until she’s 35. “I thought if I beat [Marshall], it shuts everybody up. But the way that I beat her, to me, it was crazy, because she’s a bigger girl and she is a big puncher. But I handled her with ease in front of her entire country. Six million watched the fight globally. I could say it’s my best performance ever.”
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter who has been working for Ring Magazine/RingTV.com since October 1997 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.
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