Two-time Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields enters the pro world with the impact of a jackhammer on Saturday.
Never before has a female boxer like Shields entered the professional ranks with as much potential to impact the sport.
Shields makes her pro debut against another debuting star Franchon Crews on Saturday Nov. 19, at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The super middleweight clash will be shown on the free portion of HBO pay-per-view around 4 p.m. PST.
“It’s exciting to be on television and on this fight card,” said Shields by telephone. “I want to show my skills.”
Female prizefighting, especially in the U.S., has been hidden due to unwillingness by promoters to stage female bouts. It has been further hurt by the complete omission of televised female bouts until recently.
That can change with one single swoop from Olympian boxer Shields.
Former HBO executive Mark Taffet sees the mega potential of the female fighter from Flint, Michigan and now co-manages her.
“I want to work with athletes that are game changers and she is really that type of athlete,” said Taffet who worked for HBO since the early 1990s and built the pay-per-view model still used for boxing. “She is the type of athlete that I yearned to work with and she is at the prime of her life.”
Backed by Taffet and others, Shields saw opportunity to showcase her boxing skills that enabled her to cruise through Olympic Games in London and Rio de Janeiro.
Female boxing has taken a backseat to female MMA especially with the immense popularity experienced by Ronda Rousey in recent years. But that rise in popularity and sold out venues also convinced many that female boxing could also succeed in similar fashion.
Think Michael Jordan
Now pro boxing has Shields the most decorated and recognized female amateur boxer in history. She’s dripping with talent. Think Michael Jordan in basketball when he emerged from the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Shields has that kind of talent.
With explosive hand speed and bone cracking power in both fists, Shields burst on the boxing scene by surprise in 2012. That was not the case this past summer but it did not matter as she was fearless in her approach and adaptable to her opponent’s change of tactics. Holding and running did not block her tidal wave of pinpoint blows. Despite some dubious judging in many boxing bouts, no one could derail the Shields express. She won gold for a second time.
The accolades were heaped on the female boxer with a winning smile and television shows welcomed her with open arms. But what was going to be her next step?
“I was thinking about myself and about my legacy. The Olympics were huge but I would disappear for four more years. Nobody would see me for four more years. I didn’t want that. I want people to see me now instead of disappearing,” said Shields.
Calls and inquiries were made and her decision to become a professional was a hot rumor traveling across the country at hyper-speed. Suddenly the rumor became truth and another shockwave crossed the country.
Taffet met Shields and her coach and was impressed. If he was going to back the Olympian he wanted someone who offered more than fighting skills.
“I’ve spoken to her before and told her all the greats like Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, Manny Pacquiao, Oscar De La Hoya they all knew that to be a superstar they had to be equal outside of the ring to their commitment inside the ring,” said Taffet. “Since I’ve been with her she has been fabulous.”
Can that fabulousness transition fully in the boxing ring against a former amateur foe Crews who once held the US National title that is now Shields?
Before Crews signed to fight Shields, there was a nationwide search to find someone willing to fight the Olympian. Calls were made to contenders in the middleweight and super middleweight division but none would accept the offer.
“She did not want a walkover,” said Taffet meaning that Shields wanted a competitive opponent, not an easy fight. “Franchon Crews has an outstanding amateur background. She was at the top of the division before Claressa came along. Claressa knows it is a real challenge.”
Crews won 10 national titles as an amateur and might have been the first American female to win an Olympic medal in boxing. She was the alternate after losing to Shields. But this is professional boxing now. There is no head gear, the gloves are smaller and that can make all the difference.
Fans will be watching a fight between two amateur stalwarts who could easily be fighting for a world title within a year. They are both that good.
Shields has faced Crews before and respects her talent.
“When I do get the opportunity I can knock a girl out. I want to look good doing it. I want to show my skills,” says Shields. “But I have respect for her and all women, especially those that have gone 10 rounds. I never boxed 10 rounds or even eight.”
Shields takes her first step toward stardom on Saturday. Will she be the one to lead female boxing to greater heights?
Taffet thinks so.
“She is a very special athlete,” said Taffet. “And I hope she is part of the boxing scene for years to come.”
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