As fan-friendly as their fights tend to be, women's boxing has largely failed to convince the crème de la crème of the world's best pugilists to share a ring and throw hands. The pioneer of women's boxing, Christy Martin, never faced her chief rival, Lucia Rijker. Martin's fitting torch bearer, Laila Ali, got mileage out of her last name, showed some fighting talent, yet neglected her only true threat, Ann Wolfe. Ultimately, for a sport (or sect of a sport) to flourish, the best absolutely have to compete against the best, no exceptions. And that's precisely what transpired Saturday, April 13th, when 2-time Olympic gold medalist, Claressa Shields duked it out with long tenured champion, Christina “Lady” Hammer on Showtime Championship Boxing, live from Atlantic City, NJ. At stake was the undisputed middleweight championship of the world, all four recognized belts with the Ring Magazine strap sweetening that pot.
Claressa Shields (9-0, 2 KO’s), the self proclaimed “G.W.O.A.T.” (“Greatest woman of all time”) has been a boxing success story from the outset and last Saturday night was no exception. Possessing an amateur record of 77-1, 19 KO’s, gold medals at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics; the only American boxer to ever do so more than once. World champion at 168, Shields moved down to 160 challenge herself, to unify with arguably the most polished female fighter ever seen, Christina Hammer (24-1, 11 KO’s). Hammer possesses exquisite footwork, a powerful jab, a textbook 1-2 combination and held a portion of the middleweight championship since 2011.
From the beginning, Shields looked to counter Hammer’s vaunted left jab-right cross attack with a right hand of her own over the top of the jab, and it worked. Before long, Hammer’s jab became a non-factor and with her chief weapon nullified, the rest of her game slowly followed suit. Shields also showcased much improved head movement, leaving both hands by her sides at times, evading Hammer’s 1-2’s, further exacerbating her frustrations. Clean left hooks forced Hammer to retreat and hold, but Shields responded by working her free hand to the head and body. Claressa’s best round was the 8th, where a big right cross dislodged Christina’s mouthpiece and a beatdown ensued. It was a borderline 10-8 round with no knockdown, and if women fought 3-minute rounds as opposed to 2 minutes, a stoppage would’ve been probable. After the final bell, there’d be hugs or handshakes between these proud women, who didn’t hide their dislike in the build-up. Scoring was academic, 98-92 (3x) for Shields and in fact, seemed a bit closer than the contest itself was.
Ironically, the biggest female bout prior to Shields-Hammer was Laila Ali vs. Christy Martin in 2003. Laila being nine years younger, half a foot taller and 25-30 pounds heavier than Christy’s prime fighting weight all conspired to make this pairing a mismatch from the moment the contract was signed, however. It’s a point Shields is acutely aware of; a student of the game, Claressa takes her platform and voice as serious as she does her boxing game. Having already held a belt at super middleweight, undisputed champion at middleweight, she spoke openly of moving down further, to 154 to meet Cecilia Braekhus at a catchweight. Braekhus is the undisputed welterweight champion and universally regarded as the best female fighter in the world, pound for pound. If that doesn’t work itself out, Shields would like to avenge the only blemish on her pro or amateur ledger, a loss to Savannah Marshall. Shields even indicated she’d travel to England to face Marshall, who’s from the U.K.