You have to give Claressa Shields credit. When the two-time Olympic gold medalist and reigning 168-pound champion decided to pursue a pair of alphabet straps in the middleweight division, she chose the more daunting of the two options, choosing Hanna Gabriels over the less formidable Christina Hammer. And now “T-Rex” owns the IBF and WBA belts and it will get easier from here.
Costa Rica’s Gabriels was 18-1-1 going in and brimming with confidence after avenging her lone defeat. And it appeared that a monster upset was brewing when Gabriels put Shields on her backside with a one-two combination in the very first round. But Shields regrouped and by round five it was obvious that she had seized control of the fight. By then the left side of Gabriels face was swollen.
While Shields won comfortably on the scorecards (98-91, 97-92 twice), she was never completely out of danger as the iron-chinned Gabriels was a willing mixer. At age 23, Shields was 12 years younger than her Costa Rican adversary and tonight youth prevailed. As female fights go, this was one of the better ones with two skilled and tough practitioners stealing the show after a promising but ultimately pedestrian undercard.
The aforementioned Christina Hammer successfully defended her WBC and WBO titles with a workmanlike 10-round decision over Tori Nelson. A 27-year-old German via Kazakhstan, Hammer pitched a virtual shutout (100-90, 99-91, 99-91) while elevating her undefeated record to 23-0. Nelson (17-2-3) had three strikes against her going in: she was too old (41), too short (Hammer had a four-and-a-half inch height advantage), and too feather-fisted (only two knockouts in 22 fights). It was Hammer’s first fight on U.S. soil. Up next will be Ms. Shields with all of the significant middleweight hardware at stake.
In a 10-round light heavyweight match, Umar Salamov improved to 21-1 (16) with a ninth round stoppage of Brian Howard (13-2). The bout was uneventful through the first eight frames but Salamov cranked up the juice in the ninth and ended the contest with a crisp right hand.
A 24-year-old Russian, Salamov resides in Detroit where he trains under Javan “Sugar” Hill, a protege of the late Emanuel Steward. In his lone defeat, he lost a 10-round decision to a local fighter in Brisbane, Australia. This was his first victory outside Eastern Europe.
The Atlanta-based Howard, the older man by 14 years, wasn’t fighting at his natural weight. He came in at 174 ½, 15 pounds lighter than his previous career low.
In a 10-round welterweight match, Bakhtiyar Eyubov, a Brooklyn-based Kazakh, was too strong for Nicholas Givhan who was rescued by the referee in the seventh round. Eyubov (14-0, 12 KOs), who was three inches shorter, took it to Kalamazoo’s Givhan (21-2-1) who didn’t have the tools to fend him off.
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