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Claressa Shields: ‘It’s one big step for boxing and one giant step for womankind’

Claressa Shields
Claressa Shields is striving to set yet more records, writes Paul Wheeler

MAKING history, or “herstory”, as she calls it, is nothing new to Claressa Shields. It is what she does. Whether it is being the only American boxer to earn back-to-back Olympic gold medals, or winning world titles in three different divisions quicker than anyone else, the charismatic 25-year-old has grown accustomed to setting records. This Friday (March 5), she plans to add yet another layer to her legacy by becoming the first fighter ever to reign as undisputed champion in two separate weight classes during the four-belt era.

Aiming to prevent Shields from achieving this feat is 34-year-old Canadian Marie-Eve Dicaire. In what will be Shields’ opening outing in her hometown of Flint, Michigan – and Dicaire’s sole appearance outside of Canada so far – the unbeaten super-welterweights are set to collide over 10-twos at the Dort Federal Event Center on a Salita and GYM co-promotion, live on FITE. Up for grabs are Shields’ WBC and WBO straps, along with Dicaire’s IBF title and the vacant WBA championship.

“I’m excited to be fighting another undefeated champion and to have the opportunity to make more history,” stated Shields. “Headlining my first pay-per-view event with this historic all-women’s card, particularly at such an important time in the evolution of women’s boxing and around the International Women’s Day [March 8] celebration, is so meaningful to me. It’s one big step for boxing and one giant step for womankind.”

Similarly to Shields, Dicaire is proud and thrilled to be involved in such a significant showcase for the female sport, especially after the contest was postponed in May last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m happy to finally be able to face Shields,” Dicaire said. “It’s been a year now that I’ve been preparing exclusively for this fight. I’m used to making history in women’s boxing. I was the first woman to lead an event in a major amphitheatre in Canada. On two occasions, my IBF title defences have been shown on pay-per-view in Canada. I’m excited about this opportunity for my career and for the advancement of women’s boxing.”

Rio 2016
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

If everything goes to plan for Shields, this bout will be the first act of a memorable 2021, as she is expected to make her MMA debut later this year, having signed a multi-year deal with the PFL (Professional Fighters League) at the end of 2021. She has been taking part in MMA training in order to prepare for her new challenge, and she intends to compete concurrently as a boxer and mixed martial artist. For now, though, under the guidance of trainer John David Jackson, her focus is all on the ring rather than the cage.

Dicaire is certainly no stranger to other combat sports, too. Prior to taking up boxing at the advanced age of 24, the Saint-Eustache southpaw enjoyed an extremely successful spell in karate, which she began practising at just six years old. She also spent some time as a kickboxer, but found her true calling when she crossed over to the noble art. After becoming Canadian amateur champion in 2013, the Quebecer made her professional bow in November 2015, aged 29.

Unlike Dicaire, who started out late in the sport, Shields has been boxing since she was 11. Following an outstanding 77-1 career in the unpaid ranks, where she garnered gold medals at two Olympic Games (2012 and 2016) and two World Championships (2014 and 2016), “T-Rex” turned over in November 2016 as a 21-year-old. In only 10 fights as a pro, she has accumulated eight world titles – WBC and IBF super-middleweight (unified), WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO middleweight (undisputed), and WBC and WBO super-welterweight (unified).

Last time out in January 2020, Shields scored her first knockdown in the pros when she floored Ivana Habazin in round six of their clash for the vacant WBC and WBO super-welterweight belts. However, the ex-IBF welterweight titlist was able to regain her footing and make it to the final bell, where she dropped a landslide unanimous decision. Of Shields’ 10 victories, only two have come inside the distance.

While some have suggested that Shields’ shortage of early finishes indicates a lack of punching power, the 17-0 Dicaire has failed to defeat any of her opponents via the quick route. In her most recent showing in November 2019, she soundly outpointed former WBA featherweight champ Ogleidis Suarez on a unanimous verdict to retain her IBF super-welter crown for a third time.

The well-conditioned Dicaire employs intelligent footwork and upper-body movement to evade incoming strikes, while firing out sharp jabs and one-twos both upstairs and down. An effective and efficient punch-picker, she tags her rivals with left uppercuts up top and spearing shots to the midsection, before moving out of range.

Strong, skilled and tenacious, Shields is an accurate attacker who unleashes classy combinations consisting of hooks, straights and overhand blows. She is an impressive body puncher who boasts a quality jab, but her prime attributes are her scintillating hand speed and incessant work rate. Although she suffered a knockdown during her otherwise-dominant unanimous points win over the decorated Hanna Gabriels in June 2018, her defence is typically solid.

In her first fight as a super-welterweight against Habazin, Shields looked sprightly and robust, suggesting that she is well suited to 154lbs. Dicaire is a fine fighter herself, but Shields is a formidable force, which she can demonstrate once again by succeeding on the scorecards.

The Verdict Shields vs Dicaire is a fitting spectacle ahead of International Women’s Day.

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