Boxing

Preview: Claressa Shields must get Savannah Marshall off her back to ever be the “GWOAT”


Middleweight rivals Claressa Shields and Savannah Marshall will finally clash this Saturday in London, writes Elliot Worsell

FOUR weeks after they were originally supposed to meet, middleweights Claressa Shields and Savannah Marshall will finally share a ring this Saturday (October 15) in London, their bitter rivalry having been left to simmer following the death of Her Majesty the Queen last month.

That, at the time, represented an unforeseen obstacle for all who were due to fight on the September 10 card, and it led to an unwelcome delay to a main event plenty of people were anticipating.

Yet in the end, given the history between Shields and Marshall, and given this is a collision course along which both have been travelling since 2012, waiting a few weeks longer for something this good was not quite the hardship it seemed four weeks ago.

Indeed, now, with the fight again ready to go this weekend, the rivalry is very much at boiling point, with both surely sick of the sight of one another. They have, after all, shared numerous press conferences and head-to-heads and roundtable interviews and last month, when on the brink of battle, they already looked all out of words, the pair of them. In light of this, they, as much as us, will be keen to get this thing over and done with and move on – even if moving on in this instance likely means a rematch next year.

Before that, though, we must first see how Saturday’s fight plays out and, moreover, gauge what kind of interest there is both in fight one (or two if you include their 2012 amateur bout) and any potential rematch. It was certainly building nicely in September, this rivalry, back when it was due to headline the first ever all-female fight card on Sky Sports, but, as always with these things, there was a concern the wind might have been sucked out of it once it was scrapped at the last minute and repositioned for October.

To make matters worse, of course, all we have had since are a number of disappointments and unsavoury goings-on in British boxing. We have had a big fight fall apart due to egos not being able to strike a deal, and we have had a big fight fall apart due to one of the boxers failing a performance-enhancing drug test. Neither of these situations have done much to help the positivity in in the sport right now, nor, for that matter, are they conducive to having millions of fans look forward to yet another fight week on these shores.

However, on a much brighter note, if there’s anything capable of washing from our collective skin the grease and dirt we have accumulated in the past four weeks, it’s a fight like Shields vs. Marshall. Because, on the surface, this is everything we have been looking for: competitive, meaningful, exciting. Not only that, it involves a couple of boxers who, while naturally possessing egos, have not yet allowed them to darken their character, nor allowed them to get in the way of fights being made. Oh, and it is also a rivalry as compelling as any other in the sport currently.

It is, in that respect, still very much a watershed moment for women’s boxing, being as it is a fight that can stand toe-to-toe with anything delivered – or undelivered – by their male counterparts in recent times. Good enough to headline any fight card, not just one dominated by females, Shields vs. Marshall is both the climax of a long-running feud and also, for one of them, the launchpad towards a new level of superstardom.

Certainly, as Peter Fury, Marshall’s coach, alluded to at the last press conference, both of these women need each other to reach greater heights. Too good for the rest, they need each other like many of the iconic heavyweights in the seventies needed each other and like many of the iconic welterweights and middleweights in the eighties needed each other. They need each other not just financially, but also to bring out their very best stuff on fight night. Even if one of the two already calls herself “The GWOAT”, how can Shields proclaim greatness – true greatness – without fighting, and beating, arguably her greatest rival to date?

That will no doubt be her plan on Saturday, of course. But, until then, one must look at Shields as a champion who has collected belts and scalps with ease so far, yet has still to really be tested as a pro. She is unbeaten in 12 fights, has dominated not one but three weight classes, and has won too many belts in those weight classes to actually count. She competes for now at middleweight, the weight at which she fights Marshall on Saturday, and this too would appear to be her best weight, for it is where she has scored some of her best wins.

Indeed, it was at middleweight Shields beat Christina Hammer, perhaps her best opponent, in 2019, and also Hannah Gabriels, who managed to drop Shields in the first round of their fight in 2018. Interestingly, it was after beating Hammer for all the belts that Shields decided to drop down to super-welterweight, where she defeated Ivana Habazin and Marie-Ève Dicaire, only to then find herself back at middleweight earlier this year when outpointing Ema Kozin over 10 rounds.

In short, the champion from Flint, Michigan is a flexible, adaptable fighter whose skills allow her to campaign quite seamlessly in more than one division. Wherever she goes, her threat appears to remains the same, with much it coming from her movement, her hand speed, and her poise, as opposed to, say, her punch power, which is proven by the fact Shields has not registered a stoppage win since 2017.

That’s often a criticism of her, in fact, this perceived lack of drama and excitement, and Marshall, for one, has regularly used this as a stick with which to beat her next opponent in any back and forth. For Marshall, in contrast to Shields, happens to be as heavy-handed as anyone in the women’s game and has won her last eight fights by stoppage (meaning she hasn’t gone the distance since 2018). She hits an opponent and their expression changes and so too does the course of the fight. She is also tall for the weight, standing at just shy of six feet, and generates impressive leverage in her shots because of this.

Shields, a few inches shorter at 5’8, doesn’t have that same luxury, though is considered by most to be the superior technician. Not only that, many believe Shields’ opposition has been significantly better than Marshall’s so far and that her experience in going 10 rounds on a consistent basis against this level of opposition will stand her in good stead when sharing a ring with a puncher by now accustomed to getting rid of perhaps sub-par opponents inside three rounds.

“If the fight’s got to go 10 rounds I’m going to win on points,” Shields, 12-0 (2), told Sky Sports. “If I’ve got to knock her out, I’ll knock her out. I’m not worried about bad decisions. I know that God has brought me here for a reason and He’s going to be with me inside the ring when I’m fighting.

“I look forward to giving her the best Claressa Shields she’ll ever get. I’m going to go in there and show why I call myself GWOAT (Greatest Woman of All-Time) but also why others consider me that.”

An emotional, passionate and sometimes fiery character, there is forever the suspicion with Shields that the same thing that drives her and has led to her a success could, in this instance, ultimately be her undoing. For it’s clear there is something about Savannah Marshall and what happened between them in the amateur game that riles her, and brings out the dog in her, and has in some ways threatened the GWOAT persona she has constructed for herself and wears like a badge of honour.

She wants to be perfect, after all, and until she avenges her amateur loss to Marshall, this girl with bragging rights over her, that is not possible. This aspect alone brings a new dimension to a Shields fight, meaning it is, from a neutral perspective, most welcome. It brings with it an increase in attention and an increase in pressure, both self-applied and from others, which could, on the one hand, prove to be the thing that unravels all of Shields’ previous good work, with Marshall truly the American’s bogeywoman, or, on the other hand, a more mature Shields could rise to the occasion, using the added fire in her Marshall has helped to create to produce her best performance yet.

The danger, for Shields, will be early, just as it is for any Marshall opponent right now. It is then, in the opening rounds, she will be at her most nervous and edgy, and it is also at that point Marshall, 12-0 (10), will presumably be at her most powerful and confident. Yet, if Shields, as seasoned as they come, can navigate her way through those treacherous opening three or four rounds, and she obviously has the skills to manage it, one can see her winning the majority of the remaining rounds with her sharp feet and combination-punching to take a decision at the fight’s conclusion.

Mikaela Mayer and Alycia Baumgardner exchange words ahead of their fight (Lawrence Lustig)

Supporting Shields vs. Marshall on Saturday is a super-featherweight fight almost as intriguing between Americans Mikaela Mayer and Alycia Baumgardner. Those two, like Shields and Marshall, have been goading one another for some time now and were also, like Shields and Marshall, supposed to settle their dispute last month. Instead, they will now try to do that this weekend and the fight, which sees both bringing belts to the table, should, if the pre-fight antics are anything to go by, be a good one, too.

Mayer, a super-featherweight since turning pro in 2017, is a sharp-shooter with solid fundamentals and a rangy style, whereas Baumgardner, the smaller of the two at 5’6 (Mayer is 5’9), is all about physical strength and punch power.

So far Mayer has managed to avoid defeat in her career, stringing together 17 consecutive wins (five inside the distance), and last time out in April outpointed Jennifer Han over 10 rounds in defence of her IBF and WBO super-featherweight belts. Baumgardner, meanwhile, gate-crashed the 130-pound division back in November 2021, when she dramatically stopped England’s Terri Harper inside four rounds to take her WBC super-featherweight belt in Sheffield. That night Baumgardner arrived, not only as a belt-holder but as a puncher to be feared by all who cross paths with her.

Next up, of course, is Mayer, who is someone whose acumen and athleticism, she hopes, will be enough to see her through 10 rounds – or fewer – in the company of Baumgardner, 12-1 (7). She will take confidence no doubt from both her own form and ability, as well as the 2018 defeat – her only one as a pro – Baumgardner suffered at the hands of Christina Linardatou, who outboxed “The Bomb” over eight rounds.

A repeat of that here, although this time over 10, is probably the safe pick given Mayer’s greater pedigree and experience as champion. But, rest assured, Baumgardner’s pressure and power will make her a live and dangerous threat for as long as she can stay ambitious in the fight.

To look beyond those two excellent title fights (Shields vs. Marshall and Mayer vs. Baumgardner) on Saturday is to find little in the way of competitive action, unfortunately. Rather, what you will find further down the O2 Arena card are a number of unbeaten prospects like Caroline Dubois, Lauren Price, Karriss Artingstall, Ebonie Jones and Shannon Ryan up against opponents they will all be heavily favoured to beat. However, not unlike women’s boxing in general, they have to start somewhere, I suppose.



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