Claressa Shields

Claressa Shields: Give It To Them Champ (You’ve Got It)

Claressa Shields refers to herself as the GWOAT, not Queen, but she’s still had it up to here.

Claressa Shields refers to herself as the GWOAT, not Queen, but she’s still had it up to here.

First disclaimer: I am no more a proponent of Claressa Shields’ movement, than I am a proponent of a male fighter at a similar point in their career, such as fellow Olympian Shakur Stevenson as an example.

Second disclaimer: Nor am I a leading advocate for women’s boxing. I’m gradually learning who the sport’s major players are, or are going to be, at the same time as many of you who clicked on this post.

Let’s get to this.

We’re two weeks into 2018, so I’m not going to chide boxing fans with the passé ‘put some respek’ on Claressa Shields’ name.

No, for some apropos mood music I’m going back even farther. I’m going back to Queen Latifah’s Nature of A Sista (1991) album, drawing inspiration from the single “Latifah’s Had It Up 2 Here.”

I know few probably remember La jumping out of nowhere, in the video, to block the trash-talking brother’s jump shot in the clip’s intro!

In Verse One, Queen Latifah got busy quickly, defending herself against her detractors with:

How dare those who talk we can’t have them Some make me wanna go out with the bat and a magnum But a wise, civilized and growing higher Judgments from the Queen punishment is the fire I’m here to make these fools out of liars You must learn step and respect the sire, face the fire…

Three days following her clean-sweep, 10-round unanimous decision victory over a surprisingly durable 41-year old Tori Nelson, WBC and IBF Super Middleweight champion Shields didn’t attempt to block any of her detractors’ jump shots. She did check in on Twitter to reiterate that she trusts in herself, first, and then her team. In doing so, she’s won her pair of Olympic gold medals, and now headlined three Showtime cards in less than 12 months.

In Verse Two, La lets it be known she’s worked hard to climb a rung or two, and reminds listeners about the value of the words of idle critics:

Because the Queen has reached a certain plateau All I do is “boo” and say “Is that so?” Talk is cheap and if talk got any cheaper They’d be selling Nike tongues instead of sneakers…

Before Shields versus Nelson Friday night, a disgruntled boxing fan replied to my tweet about the fight, tweeting that he intended to check out the first two fights, but had zero interest in the card’s main event. He went on to say, “Showtime Boxing wants to be inclusive of women, which is fine, but good luck generating much interest w/ someone like Shields…”

I struggled with these sentiments, ever so briefly – it was the first fight night of 2018. With that said, I had two questions. First, is Showtime Boxing under the leadership of its Executive Vice President Stephen Espinoza somehow being reckless with its decision-making by cultivating a relationship with an undefeated two-time Olympic gold medalist with zero out-of-the-ring issues since turning pro? Furthermore, isn’t ShoBox: The New Generation’s the platform typically used to both feature and groom rising prospects?

Secondly, back to the aforementioned Shakur Stevenson (4-0, 2 KOs) – a silver medalist at the 2016 Summer Olympics held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. While there are many who voice concerns regarding his chances at maturing into a special fighter, even after just four fights, is anybody really criticizing Top Rank‘s Bob Arum for attempting to showcase the kid on his upcoming cards on ESPN? A decision largely driven by Stevenson’s Olympic showing.

The chorus for Latifah’s song is simple yet it matches the marching orders for Shields as the unified champion and her team plots her next moves:

Give it to ’em Queen, yeah, yeah, yeah Give it to ’em Queen (I got it) Give it to ’em Queen, yeah, yeah, yeah Give it to ’em Queen (I got it) Give it to ’em Queen, yeah, yeah, yeah Give it to ’em Queen (I got it) Give it to em Queen, yeah, yeah, yeah The Queen [C L A R E S S A] in command

However we got here, with Shields settling in as the de facto face of women’s boxing, has her team of Salita Promotions and manager Mark Taffet failed their client in some way?

Okay, so Live with Kelly and Ryan had Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson on as a guest on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and not Shields. And, I don’t believe Shields was invited onto ESPN in-studio boxing analyst Stephen A. Smith’s midday radio show during the week before her first title defense versus Nelson. Nor did Shields make appearances on popular urban New York-based radio shows like Sway In The Morning on XM Sirius’ Shade45, or the nationally-syndicated The Breakfast Club, but she did get to flash a few moves and some of her fancy footwork on the big screen at Little Caesars Arena during a recent Detroit Pistons game.

With Shields’ first successful title defense behind her, promoter Dmitriy Salita and Taffet will focus on putting together the road to a showdown between Shields and undefeated unified Middleweight Christina Hammer. Hammer won’t turn 28 until August, has 10 knockouts scattered over her 22 wins, she stands 5 foot 11 inches, and reiterated Saturday night during the telecast that she possesses the skill set to derail Shields’ projected reign. The only glaring problem is, U.S. audiences have only seen her in the ring in a dress and heels.

The measuring stick now plaguing Shields, and possibly her long-term marketability, is her punching power, as boxing fans repeatedly ask, “Why didn’t she knockout a 41-year old fighter that she soundly defeated over 10 lopsided rounds?”

Fair question.

Shields easily out-landed Nelson 225-81 with her total punches, doubling the determined Virginia native 186-70 in powers shots, and connected at a rate well over 40 percent for the entire fight. After the fight Nelson said, “No disrespect to Claressa, she doesn’t have great power. She has great speed and she overwhelms you with a lot of punches.”

Despite becoming a world champion in just four fights, and subsequently generating a great deal of buzz, Shields is still fine-tuning her game and establishing her ring identity as a pro. She does have two stoppages among her five bouts.

Did either of those two fighters receive a 10-count? No. But nobody’s too dissatisfied with 50 percent of pound-for-pound king Vasyl Lomachenko‘s stoppages being represented by four fighters quitting.

Now, I realize Lomachenko’s a horrific side-by-side comparison, but at a quick glance, Shields has yet to even drop a single round in any of her five fights. And I’m not sure her fight with Sydney LeBlanc shouldn’t have been stopped. Similarly to Lomachenko, Shields also asserts that not many of her peers will pick up the phone or reply to contract offers. Regarding Hammer, Saturday night Shields discussed plans to head down in weight, but when the conversation veered towards the anticipated super fight she casually blew off the looming challenge from the German.

“Hammer just wants to scope.  I think she’s pretty scared to be honest.  She is more worried about me than I am about her.  I’m going to kick Hammer’s ass.”

Honestly, as I think about the nature of today’s sports fan in general, I believe it’s become customary to lash out at any athlete that’s embraced by the organizations that provide said athlete with his or her stage. Unless we’re dealing with a team sport, and the athlete in question is projected to help a fan’s team. Kristaps Porzingis.

The reality with Shields is that Taffet – whose Twitter profile indicates he’s HBO’s former Pay-Per-View Chief credited for Floyd Mayweather‘s record-breaking fights with Oscar de la Hoya and Manny Pacquiao – isn’t pushing for Shields to have her own first PPV in late-2018. All of the parties involved are just trying to give a dedicated athlete with legitimate promise a platform on which to ply her trade based on what she’s already achieved in the sport.

Fight fans did see how quickly the HBO team distanced itself from former WBC top 15-ranked Super Lightweight Cletus Seldin before the conclusion of his last fight in December, right? These network-promoter-fighter relationships aren’t ironclad.

I know Shields’ public persona is evolving, and at times maybe she’s said some things that turned some folks off. I also thought that was common for rising and established fighters. But I’ve noticed a growing comfort level with Shields and some flashes of polish in her media dealings. Personally in a recent one-on-one interview, as well as how she handled the Showtime commentators during Friday’s telecast. Perhaps it’s time for fans to show some maturity, or patience, and consider an enlightening comment made in a recent Boxing Scene article by Shields’ former US National team coach Dr. Christy Halbert.

One might argue Dr. Halbert is vested in Shields, but there is a lot of credence in her sentiments that, “(Many) people don’t know the women’s fight game at all. They don’t know enough about Claressa at all, and they know even less about her opponents. So it doesn’t surprise me that they don’t understand the magnitude of what she’s achieved.”

The women’s fight game is, unfortunately, by and large unknown to a lot of us. Simply perusing the win-loss records of these fighters can’t begin to tell their respective stories. However, with the exception of Amanda Serrano, a dominant five-time world champion among the lighter weight divisions, not a lot of women fighters are known for being knockout specialists – especially beyond their first few fights. We can look at the fighters called out in the Boxing Scene piece like Layla McCarter (17 percent KO ratio), Heather Hardy (19 percent KO ration), Jennifer Han (4 percent KO ratio), and then both with 8 fights each Katie Taylor and Alicia Napoleon boast of KO ratios at or just above 50 percent. Napoleon has five knockouts, but a 10-round unanimous decision loss to Nelson in 2016 is the lone blemish on her record.

Again, this is a horrific way to judge these fighters – summing up their accomplishments solely on KO ratios. But it’s no better than surmising Shields’ legitimacy, or even worse legacy, after just five fights.

Shields is a developing fighter, for now she awaits to see what her team puts together for her next, and once it’s sorted out she’ll undoubtedly continue to “give it to them.” She’s driven by a tough background, she’s headstrong, she’s Flint-built and has no intentions of wasting her time asking displeased fans with unrealistic expectations to give her credit, or the fair chance she’s more than earned. I am.

All photos by Stephanie Trapp/Showtime

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