CLARESSA SHIELDS — Few knew what to expect when a clear-eyed Claressa Shields, a two-time Olympic gold medal winner, hustled into the prize ring for her pro debut. It took mere seconds to find out.
Shields flew into battle against Franchon Crews like a hungry tigress looking to protect her domain. After four fiery rounds of nonstop blurry exchanges and concussive blows, the two-time Olympic gold medalist emerged the winner by unanimous decision at T-Mobile Arena.
But it wasn’t easy.
Crews, a former 10-time US National champion, proved skillful and resilient against the youthful power of Shields. It’s a sign of the times. Female prizefighting has entered a new exciting level and there’s no stopping it now.
Observers around the country were vocal about this new wave of female prizefighters. Both Shields and Crews had spent years in the American amateur program and are examples of the new female prizefighter.
“I feel that last night’s (Saturday) fight gave women’s boxing a huge shot in the arm. We are now seeing not only Claressa Shields and Franchon Crews turn pro and give a fresh life in the sport, but other highly experienced amateur boxers too,” said Sue Fox, editor-in-chief of WBAN.com
Blanca Gutierrez, a boxing promoter from the San Francisco Bay area, said it’s an example of the highly trained female boxers that are coming out of the amateur system.
“Claressa is really strong. She has good power,” said Gutierrez a former kickboxer. “A lot of amateurs are coming up with more composure and technique than the amateurs of the past.”
Even veteran female world champions took note of the debut of Shields and Crews.
Kaliesha West, a former bantamweight and super bantamweight world champion from Southern California, said she was shocked that Shields first pro fight was against Crews, an Olympic alternate and former U.S. National amateur champion.
“They put her in there against Crews who is much bigger than Claressa and a true veteran in boxing,” noted West, who also had an extensive amateur career. “That girl Crews has been around.”
No Easy Fights
Shields entered the pro fighting world seeking to prove that top-tier opposition was where she belongs immediately.
Mark Taffet, the former vice president for HBO, co-manages Shields and said the Olympian did not want an easy fight. They scoured the middleweight rankings and began making phone calls to several top contenders and former world champions. All declined. Finally they decided to call Crews a 10-time US National amateur champion with an extensive career. Both had fought each other with Shields winning. But this time would be different.
Amateur female boxers fight with head gear. They eliminated head gear for the men at the Olympics but decided to keep it for the women. Another stark difference is the smaller gloves used in the pros. Amateur boxing gloves are like big pillows compared to the eight and 10-ounce pro gloves.
No head gear and smaller gloves can make a huge difference for amateur boxers moving into the pro arena.
Would it make a difference for Shields and Crews?
When the two former amateur foes heard the first bell an immediate explosion of blows erupted from the duo in a shocking display that would not be duplicated in any of the other bouts on the Las Vegas fight card. These two female warriors were looking for a sudden end, not for a decision.
Shields had the quicker bursts of combinations but Crews was equally aggressive in her counters. Not until the end of the third round did the pace slow as both women tired. But the fourth and final round saw them pick up a deadly pace and each exploded on each other with blows meant to stop the other.
All three judges scored it for Shields, but the fans were ecstatic at this high level display of female boxing from both fighters. Most excited was her co-manager Taffet.
“It was something beautiful and true poetry in motion. She is blessed with talent,” said Taffet, adding that Shields also possesses that extra understanding in regards to her fans and the media. “She understands the importance of it just like other greats I’ve worked with in the past such as Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, Oscar De La Hoya and Manny Pacquiao.”
Televised female fights
Although it wasn’t part of the HBO pay-per-view telecast, the female clash was streamed and shown on the free portion of the telecast. After the fight, HBO executives could be seen effusively congratulating Shields after the culmination of the female battle.
Could this mark the beginning of female prizefighting being televised?
Last month rival network Showtime announced it would be televising female boxing beginning in 2017.
Stephen Espinoza said the network was inspired by the upswing in competitive fights in numerous weight divisions and was targeting late spring as a target date to begin televising female bouts.
“Really there’s no reason why women’s boxing shouldn’t be on television. It’s a goal we would definitely like to meet in 2017,” Espinoza said in October.
The emergence of two-time Olympic gold medal winner Shields into the pro ranks has set afire the world of women’s pro boxing.
“My hope is that the outcome can make an impact for America female boxers—-but time will tell on this issue,” said Fox, who is a former pro boxer and now a leading journalist in female boxing. “After covering the sport for over 18-plus years, I have seen many peaks and valleys in the sport—some leading us to believe that women’s boxing has finally made its mark in the mainstream just to be unfortunately let down. So I would have to reserve my thoughts on where I believe it will lead to.”
Southern California’s West, whose family moved from Michigan to Moreno Valley when she was young, says that females are scrutinized more heavily than men.
“No mistakes can be made in this business, especially as a woman because one mistake in the fight game can be the end,” said West, 28. “Opportunities are limited and the critics are quick to criticize.”
Ask Shields and she’s a ball of energy on the topic.
“I felt great for my first fight, it was really different getting hit with the head gear off,” said Shields after the fight. “The gloves are smaller and even though I have never KO’d anyone, I know for a fact that I can.”
And what are her plans for the future?
“I definitely believe women can fight but nobody knows about them because they are not on TV,” said Shields. “I definitely think I’m going to have competition.”
How far can Shields take female prizefighting along for the ride?
“We all felt it was the right move. Not just for women’s boxing but for all boxing. There’s a void to fill for boxing fans and the next generation,” said Taffet. “She’s a winner and she’s been a winner in life and in the ring, so nothing is impossible.”
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