Entering her first professional bout in Nov. 2016, Claressa Shields faced lofty expectations. She posted 77-1 record in the amateurs and two Olympic gold medals on her resume.
Even though she hadn’t fought professionally, she was deemed by many boxing pundits as the face of female boxing, replacing the likes of Laila Ali, Christy Martin and Lucia Rijker.
To her credit, Shields hasn’t disappointed. She’s undefeated in four pro fights, winning two by knockout. She looks to continue her dominance when she defends her WBC and IBF female super middleweight titles against Tori Nelson on Friday (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET/PT) from the Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, NY.
While Ali, Martin and Rijker were excellent fighters, they weren’t quite able to push women’s boxing into the minds of the public. Shields feels the way her predecessors treated boxing, the sport’s growth was stunted.
“I have been able to meet some of those women who were the trailblazers for women’s boxing,” Shields told Sporting News. “I felt the sport didn’t take off like it was supposed to because those women weren’t people who wanted the sport to grow.
“I think they were more just about wanting the sport to be about ‘Me’ and ‘I am women’s boxing.’ Laila Ali, she is women’s boxing. I feel the same thing with Christy Martin and she was like, ‘I am women’s boxing.’ Even the same with Lucija Reijker. Women’s boxing is more than just about one fighter.”
Currently, Shields is the biggest female name in the sport. There are others in Europe, like Katie Taylor and Cecilia Braekhus, but Shields has been able to garner the mainstream headlines. Knowing that, she wants to use those headlines for everything she’s accomplished at this point to help grow the sport for women.
If nothing changes the narrative surrounding women’s boxing, it will be exactly how it was before Shields came along.
“I’m trying to get so many more females involved with the sport so it can continue to grow and bring more attention,” Shields told SN. “There are a lot of women in the sport of women’s boxing. With me being the torch bearer, I want to bring more eyes to the sport. I want to build it to where it’s about more than just one fighter. …
“I had already started to build a name for myself in the Olympics and through the amateur programs. It brought the sense of, “there’s this women’s [Vasiliy] Lomachenko.’ So now, there’s a woman who’s boxed all over the world who was 77-1. That does exist for the women. So now, they cannot give you the recognition because you earned it already. A lot of women just want to be given the opportunity when there was really no way to work your way up. Now, there’s a way to work your way up.”
There has never been an all-women’s boxing card on a major network or premium channel. In fact, in two of her last three fights, Shields has been in the main event on Showtime, and men have preceded her on the undercard. Shields feels 2018 will be the year that answers the question as to whether or not we’ll see an all-female card.
“I think 2018 will decide that because I truly feel in my heart women’s boxing is more entertaining than men’s boxing at this time,” Shields told SN. “I feel that way because in the men go to so many close and bad decisions. But in women’s boxing, it’s white or black. There’s no gray area.
“I feel when it comes to women’s boxing, when the best fight the best, that’s going to get the attention that we want, and that’s what going to make people want to see us on television. I think if it’s not 2018, maybe 2019 there will be a lot of women being in main events and having male undercards. And not just me, but other women as well.”
Steven Muehlhausen is an MMA and boxing writer and contributor for Sporting News. You can listen to his podcast, “The Fight Junkies” here . You can email him at email@example.com and can find him on Twitter @SMuehlhausenMMA .