THOUGH only sitting in a ringside seat, the spectre of Claressa Shields will loom large in Manchester this Saturday (July 1). She has, after all, beaten not only Savannah Marshall, the challenger in the night’s main event, but also Franchon Crews-Dezurn, the super-middleweight champion who, like Shields did last October, has arrived in England to defend what’s hers.
It may not end there, either. Chances are, Shields, despite having beaten both, could very well fight the winner of Crews-Dezurn vs. Marshall next, which may explain her presence at ringside on the night. She could even end up fighting both again, such is the difficulty sourcing decent opponents these days. Or, if not Marshall and Crews-Dezurn, perhaps it is Natasha Jonas she wants to monitor closeup. For Jonas, too, fights on Saturday, in a title fight at welterweight against Kandi Wyatt, and has seemingly emerged as a potential Shields opponent, likely at super-welterweight, a division in which Shields, 14-0 (2), has previously won belts.
Whether it’s Marshall, Crews-Dezurn or Jonas, there is every possibility Shields will be fighting again in the UK. It is there, in London, she secured her biggest win to date and it is there, also, the biggest fights, biggest crowds, and presumably the biggest paydays wait for her.
“I think it’s possible,” Shields’ promoter Dmitry Salita told Boxing News when asked whether Shields’ next fight would be in the UK. “Claressa wants to make the biggest fights and obviously economics is a big part of it.
“Boxing in the UK is so phenomenal. I think we have been to the UK eight times and every time I have loved it. Also, Claressa has got a tremendous amount of support after her incredible win versus Savannah Marshall at the O2 Arena.
“I believe the reason why she is there (on Saturday) is that she wants to take an up-close-and-personal look at what’s going on. She’s very close with Franchon Crews; they’re friends, even though they fought each other. I think she’s rooting for Franchon. We’ll see what happens and then make our decision after that.
“It all depends on how Savannah does in her next fight as far as whether we’ll see that rematch. I think Savannah coming to the United States would be pretty significant. She would be doing what Claressa has already done and that would make the rematch interesting. It would give it a new angle. She would be coming to the States to avenge her loss and I think that could be good for her.
“If that fight happens in Detroit, it would definitely sell well at the Little Caesars Arena. Usually, nine and a half times out of ten, there is mutual respect there (after a fight), and friendship forms, but in this situation not much has changed.”
As for Jonas, given Shields has already outclassed Marshall (thus reducing the appeal of that rematch), it is not a stretch to call her the frontrunner for a Shields fight at this stage. She is, after all, on a fine run of form of her own and, at 39, won’t want to be waiting around much longer for her career-defining fight.
“We did seriously consider that fight (against Jonas) and we’ve explored that possibility,” said Salita. “The issue was that she didn’t want to fight Claressa at that point in time. But I think Natasha is a very positive person and a very talented fighter. I think a fight between her and Claressa is a significant fight to be made. I also think Cecilia Brækhus is a potential fight for Claressa, maybe in the UK. But Natasha Jonas certainly makes the most sense.”
Often with Shields there is a sense her biggest opponent, or challenge, is to gain the respect she believes her achievements warrant. Certainly, those who know what they’re watching appreciate her quality, as do most of her peers, females and males alike. But such is Shields’ ambition, she wants more than that. Recently, for instance, she made the rather bold claim that if she happened to be a male boxer she would, based on her achievements, be the biggest name in the sport, which was a comment criticised as much as it was celebrated.
Clearly, on paper, when looking at the belts and divisions she has conquered, there is an argument to be made. Yet, of course, what in the end holds Shields back is ultimately what holds back every boxer in the women’s game right now: a lack of genuine competition and a history not substantial enough for any sort of legacy to truly be established, never mind compared to the legacies of those in the men’s game.
“I believe, based on accomplishments, that if she was a man, she would be making a lot more money,” said Salita. “With that being said, the reason women’s boxing has grown as much as it has is because of Claressa. She is the first woman to ever be the main event on premium cable network television in the United States and she is the first woman to earn seven figures. She was also involved in the most-watched women’s boxing match on Sky Sports. She has done a lot of ‘firsts’ and raised the profile and pay scale of women’s boxing all over the world.
“It’s getting better, but it’s still not there. I don’t have an exclusive TV deal, so I have to be very creative with her in terms of what makes the most sense. She is maybe the only female boxer who has fought on every platform: Showtime, HBO, DAZN, ESPN. She has been around on every broadcaster and has, by doing this, helped raise women’s boxing to the next level.”
Of that there is little doubt. What’s more, other women, from welterweight to super-middleweight, know this as well. It’s why they invite Shields to sit ringside and watch them fight. It’s why, whether they want to admit it or not, they are all forming an orderly queue, even on nights when they are supposed to be focusing solely on the opponent directly in front of them.