Claressa Shields, the face of women’s boxing in the United States, claimed two super middleweight world title belts in her last fight — just the fourth of her pro career — but she is just getting started.
Shields won back-to-back Olympic gold medals in 2012 and 2016, the only American ever to do that in boxing, to cap a brilliant 77-1 amateur career. She then stormed to two world titles when she knocked out Nikki Adler in the fifth round of an utterly dominant performance on Aug. 4. Not only did Shields violently seize Adler’s title belt, she also won a vacant one to go with it.
Now, Shields is set to make her first title defense with big plans thereafter. Unlike most male fighters, who rise up the scale in search of more titles, Shields’ plans are to move down in weight and win world titles at middleweight and junior middleweight. But first she will defend her 168-pound belts against unbeaten former middleweight world titleholder and mandatory challenger Tori Nelson in the main event of a “ShoBox: The New Generation” tripleheader on Friday (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET/PT) at the Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York.
Also on the card: Brooklyn-based Uzbekistan native Shohjahon Ergashev (11-0, 11 KOs), a 26-year-old southpaw and decorated amateur, will face Sonny Fredrickson (18-0, 12 KOs), 23, of Toledo, Ohio, in an eight-round junior welterweight bout, and junior featherweight Jesse Hernandez (10-1, 7 KOs), 27, of Fort Worth, Texas, will square off with fellow southpaw Ernesto Garza (9-2, 5 KOs), 29, of Saginaw, Michigan, in a 10-round fight.
“I’m a student of the game so I watch film and my coach watches film and we came up with a game plan — not to brawl unless I make the brawl happen and to use a really good jab for the fight,” Shields said. “This camp we did a lot of sparring to make sure I’m in great shape after the five-month layoff. She’s a pressure fighter. She likes to come forward and doesn’t care about getting hit so I am looking to land my combinations, land my jab and stay calm. She doesn’t really have good defense so I will keep mine tight and break her down.”
Shields (4-0, 2 KOs), 22, of Flint, Michigan, will be facing a much older opponent in the 41-year-old Nelson (17-0-3, 2 KOs), who has considerable professional experience. The 19-year age difference is stark, but Nelson, of Ashburn, Virginia, didn’t pick up boxing until she was in her late 20s and she has only been a pro since 2010.
“In women’s boxing it’s not unusual for a lot of them to start late,” Shields said. “When I won my first gold medal when I was 17 the Russian lady I beat in the final was 34. I’m used to fighting against older women. I won’t say her age means she’s lacking anything but she keeps talking about retirement. She keeps saying she’s going to beat me and then she will retire undefeated but I know that’s not going to happen.”
Should Shields win, the plan is for her to move down to middleweight for an April fight on Showtime. On the same card, unified middleweight world titleholder Christina Hammer (22-0, 10 KOs), 27, of Germany, would also fight and if they both win Shields would challenge Hammer for her belts this summer.
Hammer, who recently signed with Shields’ promoter Dmitry Salita, was scheduled to make her United States debut on Friday night’s nontelevised undercard. However, Hammer’s work visa was not completed in time so she will be on hand to simply watch as a spectator.
“I want to challenge Hammer for her 160-pound belts in the summer and I can also make 154 pounds,” Shields said. “I think people forget that even though I have the titles at 168 I can make 160 quite easily and I can also make 154.”
At 154 pounds looms a true women’s super fight, one against Cecilia Braekhus (32-0, 9 KOs), 36, of Norway, the No. 1 women’s boxer in the world pound-for-pound and the longtime undisputed welterweight champion. This week Braekhus was announced as the first winner of the Christy Martin women’s fighter of the year for 2017, the first time the Boxing Writers Association of America has given out a women’s fighter of the year award in its 92-year history.
“Claressa makes no bones about the fact that she wants to win world titles at 168, 160 and 154 pounds,” Mark Taffet, Shield’s manager, said. “It’s one fight at a time but I have already talked to Cecilia’s promoter, Tom Loeffler, but you cant look past a Tori Nelson or a Christina Hammer. Claressa is fighting an undefeated Tori Nelson, plans to fight undefeated champion Christina Hammer in the summer and then hopes to fight undefeated pound-for-pound champion Cecilia Braekhus at the end of 2018 or early 2019. Claressa has her eyes on big things and so far everything is falling into place.”
Shields knows she has important fights in front of her first but can’t help to think about the potential for a really big one against Braekhus.
“Oh, it’s crossed my mind, absolutely,” Shields said. “Mark has been in touch with her people and if she’s willing to come and meet me at 154 we can definitely make the fight happen. I just have to make sure I lose the weight properly. But my overall goal is to go down as the best women’s fighter in history and what better way to do that than to win titles in those three weight classes and also beat the pound-for-pound No. 1? So that’s what I am trying to do.”