Sun, Apr 14, 2019 - Page 11 News List

Shields aiming high for women’s boxing

AP

Claressa Shields works out in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on Thursday.

Photo: AP / The Press of Atlantic City

Claressa Shields won Olympic gold in 2012 in London and returned home with only a minimal bump in fame.

“I’d tell people I won the gold medal and they’d say: ‘Yeah, right,’” she said with a laugh.

So what is an unrecognized champ to do? Shields would just challenge people to Google her if they doubted that she really was one of the top boxer’s on the planet.

When that dare got old, Shields simply started carrying the gold medal with her and flashed it to her skeptics.

Four years later, when Shields won boxing gold again in Rio, she hid the London medal in her warmup jacket pocket. She pulled it out after winning the championship bout and slipped two golds around her neck atop the medal stand — best in her class, best in the world. Twice.

All that is left for Shields, who overcame a childhood of poverty and abuse, is to reach best of all time.

The 24-year-old is on the fast track toward that claim, as she was to headline one of the more tantalizing bouts in women’s boxing history yesterday night.

Shields (8-0, 2 KOs) was to fight Christina Hammer (24-0, 11 KOs) in a middleweight unification bout at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

There have been more accomplished female fighters, but no bout has quite matched this one in anticipation or potential historic significance.

Shields could continue to lead the evolution of women’s boxing the way Ronda Rousey did for mixed martial arts and bring the fight game into the mainstream.

Shields is charismatic, making fans and friends out of A-listers such as actress Halle Berry.

She is not afraid to give Beyonce a shout-out to attend her fight. She is dominant, not losing a fight since her amateur career, and has won championships in multiple weight classes as a pro.

She takes a stand, putting blue streaks in her hair to raise awareness to the clean water fight that has gone on for years in her hometown of Flint, Michigan.

If her life sounds like something out of a movie, it soon might be: If Beale Street Could Talk director Barry Jenkins is writing the screenplay for a Shields biopic.

Shields and Hammer are the first female boxers featured on Showtime’s All Access YouTube sports channel. The distinction did not come because of 28-year-old Hammer, who has racked up wins for a decade in the 160-pound division without fanfare. It is the spark and the success that Shields creates whenever she fights.

“If I was a man, I would probably be one of the most famous boxers out there,” Shields said. “There is a gender gap. We all know it. I’m working toward changing that. We work hard, we get less money and less recognition, but the world is changing. We are changing it.”

The fighters were supposed to meet on Nov. 17 last year, but Hammer postponed it because of a stomach illness.

Shields, whose father spent years in prison during her childhood, spent a day this week visiting kids from the New Jersey Give A Kid A Dream organization and the Girls in Gloves boxing program at the Atlantic City PAL gym.

She tried to inspire kids who might have had a rough upbringing like she did and show them that it is possible to achieve goals and “really see that girls can box.”

“[One of the girls] said I gave them hope and I got a little shaky,” Shields said. “I didn’t have a role model growing up, so it is a little weird to hear kids say that I am their role model. I am just trying to do a good job.”

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