Along the way, Shields officially became the coolest woman in boxing, and here’s why.
Faster than Muhammad Ali and Holly Holm
Shields is a two-time Olympic champion, and she won her first medal at the age of 17, by beating Nadezhda Torlopova in the finals. Torlopova was 32 at the time. Thus, Claressa became the first American woman Olympic champion in boxing.
At the second Olympics, Shields made history again–before her, no American boxer female or male (that includes Andre Ward, Oscar De La Hoya, Joe Frazier and George Foreman) succeeded in winning two Olympic gold medals.
Having won the second Olympic gold, Shields became the winner of the prestigious Val Barker Cup, the prize for the most technical boxer of the year. Until 2016, no woman has ever received this trophy. At 21, Shields decided to move to professional boxing with a record of 77-1.
A year later, she fought in the main event of the evening in Detroit. The evening of boxing was broadcasted by Showtime, which means that Shields became the first girl to fight in the main event on the premium TV channel.
Shields became the world champion in her fourth professional fight. For comparison, Laila Ali won the title in her 12th professional duel, Holly Holm in her 11th.
She had to endure a difficult childhood. Shields was born in the city of Flint, Michigan where 41 percent of the 100,000 people live below the poverty line. Claressa did not speak until she was five and actually did not know her father: when the girl was two years old, Bo Shields went to prison for seven years.
This turned out to be the most difficult period in the life of the family since her mother did not take much care of the children: the woman was addicted to alcohol, and it was normal for her to disappear for a long time.
“I’m not going to say that my mother didn’t care about us, but she just left us alone, and we took care of ourselves. She abused alcohol and did not know how to control it. There were times when my younger sister and I went all over the district and looked for our mother for several days. I had to find food, any food that I then gave to my younger brother and sister. If we had two packs of noodles, my brother and sister ate one each, and I didn’t. When the question of where to sleep arose, most likely, my siblings were sleeping on the couch, and I had to sleep on the floor. I learned that only I can care for myself, and no one will help me out. I was not upset about it, I was just getting used to it,” recalled Shields in an interview with the BBC.
At about the same time, Claressa was sexually abused by a “friend of the family.” According to different versions, Shields was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. And this hell lasted for six months.
“My aunt never saw me cry. I have always been a good and calm child, but one day, she saw fear in my eyes. I could not speak properly due to speech difficulties, so when she asked me what happened, I could not tell her. She gave me a doll, and I was able to show her everything that this man did to me.”
A few years later, Claressa re-met her father, and learned that Bo was fond of boxing and even fought in underground fights under the nickname “Cannonball.” The father admitted to his daughter that he hoped that one of his cousins would go in for sports, but no one had done that. It’s funny, but out of Muhammed Ali’s nine children, only his daughter Laila went into boxing.
At about this point, Shields decided to go for boxing. After another couple of years, a family got together; everyone except her father wanted the girl to sign up to a boxing gym. Bo considered boxing to be exclusively a male sport. But he was in the minority and was forced to take his daughter to train.
“He paid $60 for the gym membership, and I could not quit boxing for a year. Now, my dad will tell you that this is the best $60 he has ever spent,” said Shields.
Speech wasn’t the only problem for young Claressa: the girl had rather short hands for her height. That is why, during childhood, she was called “T-Rex.”
Shields is not afraid to laugh at this herself, so she decided to keep this nickname. She is proud of this nickname and carries it on her boxing shorts.