ON a digital conference call to promote the upcoming middleweight fight between Claressa Shields and Ema Kozin, the largely unknown Slovenian attempted to sign off in tasteful fashion.
“I wish Claressa good luck in our fight,” Kozin said in broken English after 45 minutes of being completely ignored by those asking the questions.
“I don’t need or want any good luck,” Shields replied. “I know all about you. I followed your career as an amateur and I have followed your career as a professional. There is no way you can win this fight.”
On all available evidence, Shields’ blunt view of Kozin’s chances seems about right. After all, the real point of Shields’ visit to the UK is not to fight 23-year-old Kozin but to promote a future showdown with Savannah Marshall, who handed Shields her lone loss as amateur or pro a few months before the American claimed her second Olympic gold medal at London 2012.
The plan is that Marshall will be ringside, that Shields will win, and the pair will then go nose-to-nose in a tense face off designed to heighten the marketability of one of the best fights that can currently be made in the female code.
Hard to shake the feeling, then, that Kozin is just here to make up the numbers.
Widely regarded as the third best middleweight in the world (after Shields and Marshall), Kozin is nonetheless a long way behind. Unbeaten in 22 bouts she might be, but there is nothing on her CV to suggest she can trouble the 26-year-old. Kozin can fight a bit, however. A southpaw with a decent dig, her straight left is dangerous and, from looking at footage from her early days to now, she has improved substantially.
But the biggest danger to Shields here is surely only Shields herself. Though any notion of complacency has been denied, one wonders if her foray into MMA – where she won and lost in two fights last year – has taken anything from her boxing prowess. The Flint native insists that she has been training with that in mind, taking longer with camp than she used to when boxing was her lone interest. Her desire remains to have two fights this year, against Kozin and Marshall, before returning to MMA.
As with any contest that includes a favourite as massive as Shields is here, listing reasons why the underdog may win is akin to clutching at straws. Upsets of this magnitude generally occur for three reasons: One, the underdog is infinitely better than we realised (see, Liston vs Clay), two, the favourite is below par (Tyson vs Douglas) or, three, a mixture of the two (Joshua vs Ruiz).
Shields, who will defend her WBC, IBF and WBA trinkets, should dominate. Yes, it may take her a round or two to shake off any rust but the notion that the comparatively raw Kozin can win is pure fantasy. The challenger’s best victory came in 2019, against a fading Maria Lindberg. The only other triumph of real note occurred the following year against Chris Namus. Both Lindberg and Namus lost 10-round verdicts.
The cumulative record of her opponents reads 116-109-9 (compared to 145-16-5 for Shields). The leap to “T-Rex” is huge. Kozin might last the distance but it would be a surprise if she wins more than the odd round.
In an interesting bit of matchmaking, Garnant’s Chris Jenkins takes on former super-lightweight beltholder Julius Indongo in an eight-round welterweight tussle. The Namibian is 38 years old and since he defeated Ricky Burns in 2017, he has lost four of five fights, albeit in good company. Terence Crawford halted him in three rounds in 2018, he was then stopped in two by Regis Prograis the following year, before being rescued in bouts against Daniyar Yeleussinov (2020) and Hassan Mwakinyo (2021).
Jenkins, 33, has not fought at that level but logic suggests he’s closer to his best than his African rival. However, the Welshman’s career has been hampered by misfortune, to the point that picking him to win can be a precarious business. In seven separate bouts, Jenkins has been forced to deal with injuries. Four of those bouts were curtailed by Jenkins suffering from cuts around his eyes. In his most recent contest, an eighth round loss to Ekow Essuman last summer, Jenkins ribs were broken in round two. It’s little wonder he’s considered retirement several times.
The feeling here, though, is that he’ll find a way inside the long and awkward arms to stop Indongo, who has looked increasingly delicate in recent years.
In the same division, Samuel Antwi, 30, defends his English title against Wolverhampton’s Conah Walker in a solid trade fight.
Antwi won the belt with a stirring sixth-round KO of Darren Tetley one year ago. The Stockwell fighter hasn’t had any favours at any point during his 13-1 (6) career, often fighting in the away corner and on foreign soil.
The lone loss on his record came in 2018, in Zimbabwe. Antwi’s recollection of that event is a reminder of the murky side of the boxing business. Placed in a hotel where he had no access to healthy food, Antwi also had to deal with his cutsman disappearing during the ring walks and, worse, he was taken to an orphanage in the days leading up to the bout. A few hours after being handed a sick baby to hold, Antwi was vomiting and unwell himself. Local prospect Emmany Kalombo then stopped Antwi in two rounds.
There should be no such shenanigans in Cardiff. Walker, 10-0-1 (3), is 26 years old and the current Midlands Area champion. He won that title last May, closely outpointing Levi Ferguson over 10. But Antwi appears the more polished and can stop the Midlander in the second half of a hard-fought scrap.
In another nod to the curious flavour of this bill, heavyweight contender Otto Wallin, 22-1 (14) is set to appear in a six-rounder against reliable journeyman, Kamil Sokolowski, 11-24-2 (4). Wallin can become the fourth man to stop the Barnstaple-based Pole.
The rest of the bill is a parade of prospects. Super-lightweight Harlem Eubank, 12-0 (4), heavyweight Steve Robinson, 4-0 (3), featherweight Rhys Edwards, 11-0 (4), and debutant Caroline Dubois should all win undemanding contests.
The Verdict Nothing outstanding, but several enticing scraps.