For Claressa Shields, it’s simple: success in women’s boxing is up all up to her.
But that means making a huge effort to fight independently of a culture that has traditionally placed less emphasis on women in the ring than it has men. The 25-year-old Olympic Gold Medalist – who is the No. 1 pound-for-pound female fighter in the world – has had the rare distinction of becoming the undisputed women’s middleweight world champion, having held all four of the sport’s main belts, WBA, WBO, IBF and WBC. Her current record stands at 10-0-0 with two KOs.
She’s now widely regarded as the face of women’s boxing and probably one of the most recognizable figures in the sport. On March 5, her super-welterweight fight with Canadian Marie-Eve Dicaire in her hometown of Flint, Mich., will be the main event in an all-women boxing pay-per-view showcase, the first of its type since 2001. A win would make her the undisputed junior middleweight champion.
The event dubbed “SUPERWOMEN” coincides with International Women’s Day on March 8 and Shields says her intention is to raise the profile of women’s boxing while placing a positive light on the city.
“I feel like I’m a trailblazer for women’s boxing and I feel like this is a huge step for women’s boxing,” she said in a phone interview with BET.com. “Overall, just to be able to do it up in Flint at a time like this, it’s going to be very historic and be very uplifting to the people of Flint.”
But boxing isn’t just a sport, it’s a business as well and Shields has enough experience with both to know when it’s time to step out on her own.
In January 2020, she defeated Ivana Habazin in her 10th pro fight to become the light middleweight champion, claiming titles in three weight classes, which is faster than any boxer, male or female, has ever done it.
Breaking The Hold
Although Showtime broadcasted her last six fights before their relationship ended, Shields felt that she couldn’t wait for another major network to decide when to put her or other women on a professional card, especially when she’s in prime condition. So, she and promoter Dmitry Salita and her manager Mark Taffet created SUPERWOMAN, which she hopes will demonstrate that women’s boxing is a lucrative and viable draw.
“I said we can show them that women can be pay-per-view stars in women’s boxing,” she said. “Whatever the numbers are, I’m hoping we have a great turnout and that people really enjoy the fight.”
In a statement to BET.com, a Showtime Sports spokesperson complimented Shields on her efforts to promote women’s boxing even further, saying, “At just 25 years old, Claressa Shields is a tremendous talent, which is the reason we have invested heavily in her over the last several years. We wish her well in her March 5 fight, and we hope to work with her again in the future.”
One of the most talked about fights of the past year was the return exhibition between Mike Tyson and Roy Jones in November, which did 1.6 million viewers on PPV. Shields doesn’t know if her event will do those kinds of numbers, but she did say she’d like to put women’s boxing on that kind of pedestal.
“When you speak of Mike Tyson and Roy Jones, you’re speaking of two legends,” she said. “In my pay-per-view fight, I’m fighting against a very good opponent, but she’s not a legend like me, I’m the only legend. So, I think this will be a great step and we’ll just build off of these numbers. I’m not event worrying myself with that because I've got to focus on overperforming and putting on a great show.”
Shields’ 2020 victory over Habazin resulted in her winning two super welterweight belts, but at SUPERWOMAN on Friday, both undefeated fighters will walk away with Shields WBC and WBO belts, Dicaire’s IBF belt and the WBA (super) crown.
Transition To MMA
If boxing isn’t enough, Shields is not only sticking and moving in the squared circle, she’s also in the mixed martial arts cage. In December 2020, she signed on with Professional Fighters League, expecting to debut in MMA in 2021. Her PFL contract allows her to continue boxing. She said that sport tends to be a fairer to women than boxing and that women see equal footing as far as promotion and payment. Entering it is another milestone in her athletic career, particularly because of the lack of Black women currently fighting in MMA.
“In MMA there isn’t [sic] many African American women in the sport,” she said. “With me doing it, do I think it will bring more Black women to do MMA? I don’t know. I just feel like for you to want to do MMA, it’s got to be something you want to do and that you’re passionate about and I’m actually passionate about boxing and about fighting and learning. So may be me joining MMA will bring more African American girls, but I’m not quite sure.”
Shields feels that although it’s anyone’s guess what kind of draw it will bring, after “SUPERWOMEN” there will be more all-women fight cards in the future.
“We’re going to continue to build pay-per-view numbers,” she said. “I mean, who knows what the first pay-per-view card numbers were. I’m quite sure if we go back and look it would be like $50,000, I don’t know. But now we can talk about how it’s in the millions, but that had to be built up. It doesn’t just start off that great.
“When this card happens and its successful, I think other women will stop waiting on the networks to give them a fight date and start saying we want to fight in two months and we’re not going to wait four months because you guys are giving us a check, we’re going to go and create our own checks. We’re going to be our own brand,” she said. “We’re going to get our fans to tune into our fights and we’re going to make the best fights.”
As for her prediction for her Friday bout: “If it’s pay-per-view live, she’s going down in five.”
Claressa Shields takes on Marie-Eve Dicaire Friday, March 5 at 9 p.m., on all major PPV outlets and the FITE TV app.
Editor’s Note: Showtime is owned by VIACOMCBS, which is also a parent company of BET.com and BET Networks.
Photo Credit: Edward Diller/Getty Images)