IT really is a notable achievement to win multiple world titles in three divisions, particularly in 10 fights, but there is no way we should be putting Claressa Shields alongside the men and declaring her as the first boxer in history – as many notable media outlets did over the weekend – to achieve the feat so quickly.
It is not comparable. It is two different codes. In sports such as tennis, for example, the records of men and women are kept separate. Same goes for every other organised sport on the face of the earth. The level of opposition Shields had to defeat does not compare, in any way, to levels that men like Oscar De La Hoya, Jeff Fenech and Vasyl Lomacheko had to defeat on their way to landing three divisional titles in quick time.
For further context, there are only 34 women in the entire world qualified to be ranked at middleweight (one of the divisions she has won titles in), while the same division in the men’s game has 1,561 to choose from. This of course is not Shields’ fault, but some form of perspective is essential before we lose ourselves in needless hyperbole.
As a lifelong and real boxing person, I have to speak as I see it. It may not be politically correct. Women’s boxing and men’s boxing are different and there is absolutely no way around that. We cannot sit back and pretend otherwise and, frankly, the women – who are breaking boxing boundaries on their own – deserve better than for the industry to do so.
From the two-minute rounds, and the 10-round championship fights, to the inexperience of the vast majority of female boxers – at least at professional level – as well as the lack of any real depth within the weight classes, it should become clear we’re dealing with two entirely separate codes.
Claressa herself understands this, as she has been a vocal advocate for increasing the length of rounds from two minutes to three. Obviously, then, she understands the dynamics of it in that regard.
Please don’t get me wrong nor mistake this column as some anti-women’s boxing rant. There is talent and passion and a real dedication for the game that has always inspired. I trained Elizabeth Mueller to the IWBF (International Woman’s Boxing Federation) lightweight title way back in 2001 and she was as gutsy and determined as any other professional that I’ve ever trained.
I think there have always been talented females within the sport. Just look at films of Lucia Rijker in action for example. Look at Christy Martin’s fights as another example. Christy was a blood and guts warrior who brought the action and excitement every time out. No one could watch her and say they didn’t get their money’s worth. That era was a strong one, particularly if you throw in Laila Ali and Ann Wolfe, too.
Is Claressa on target to be better than all of them? She has the talent but it’s still far too early to judge. We don’t have to put labels on her and make false headlines. She’s doing well enough without them. Yet we live in the age of the internet when claims are made and passed off as legitimate in the blink of an eye. But then, we shouldn’t be too harsh on her for calling herself the greatest. She’s certainly not the first to do that.
Shields is obviously a legitimate talent. She’s a serious fighter and she now has the name to go with the skills to put herself in position to fight the best opposition in and around her weight class at this point in the game. She’s young and with continued success she will get her chance to prove herself in a truly big fight. The only issue might be not having a dance partner in terms of another girl in her weight class with a similar level of public notability. But time will tell.