Claressa Shields’ Fight of the Year contender highlights a banner year for women’s boxing

Claressa Shields punches Savannah Marshall in their fight for the undisputed middleweight title Saturday in London. (Photo by James Chance/Getty Images)

On the Chinese calendar, 2022 is the Year of the Tiger. In boxing, it’s the Year of the Woman.

Women boxers have broken through the glass ceiling in a resounding way in 2022, and they are showing the men how the sport should be run. On Saturday, Claressa Shields won an undisputed championship in a staggering third different weight class, scoring a unanimous decision over Savannah Marshall at the O2 Arena in London to become a four-belt champion at middleweight.

Shields’ win over Marshall was a Fight of the Year contender that came in the main event, with both fighters keeping a wicked pace from start to finish. Shields left with the IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO belts as well as the WBC’s glitzy belt created to honor the late Queen Elizabeth II.

It followed an outstanding super featherweight bout for the IBF, WBC and WBO titles that Alycia Baumgardner won in an excellent bout over previously unbeaten Mikaela Mayer.

This was a women’s-only card that was the first in the boxing-crazy United Kingdom and it sold out the O2 Arena and got extraordinary media coverage.

And Saturday’s show followed the success of the undisputed women’s lightweight title bout in April that Katie Taylor won over Amanda Serrano at a jammed Madison Square Garden in New York.

Led by Shields, the best women in the world are actively seeking each other out and arranging major fights. The talent level among women’s boxers has never been higher and with fighters like Shields, Marshall, Baumgardner, Mayer, Taylor, Serrano, Seniesa Estrada and Jessica McCaskill around, among others, it’s only going to draw more talent to the sport.

Good things are ahead for women’s boxing, and it’s time for boxing promoters and television networks to start investing more of their budgets on women.

Shields has been a star almost since the day she turned pro in 2016 after winning gold medals at the 2012 Olympic Games in London and then repeating at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. But she hasn’t been universally loved or accepted by the fans. She’s extraordinarily confident and not afraid to say it. When you call yourself the “GWOAT” as early in her career as Shields did, you’re going to wind up not only with a target on your back but also have a portion of the fan base rooting against you.

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 15: Claressa Shields (L) and Savannah Marshall (R) pose after their undisputed middleweight championship fight at The 02 Arena on October 15, 2022 in London, England.  (Photo by Mark Robinson/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)

Claressa Shields and Savannah Marshall gave the sold-out crowd at the 02 Arena an entertaining battle. (Photo by Mark Robinson/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)

She’s not a power puncher — Saturday’s gritty win over Marshall raised her record to 13-0 with only two knockouts — but she understands how to fight and she has every punch in her arsenal. She doesn’t get hit often, but proved against the power-punching Marshall she has a terrific chin.

There doesn’t appear to be anyone in the upper weights who seems capable of challenging Shields, though, unless Marshall is able to correct a few issues and can pull it off.

But look at Shields’ record and it’s remarkable what she’s done. She debuted on Nov. 19, 2016, at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas against another woman making her debut, Franchon Crews-Dezurn. Shields won that by shutout, but Crews-Dezurn is now the undisputed super middleweight champion.

She fought Hanna Gabriels, who now holds the WBC women’s heavyweight title. Marie-Eve Dicare, another Shields victim, holds the IBF super welterweight belt. She’d also beaten Hannah Rankin, who lost her WBA super welterweight title last month.

She’s setting a standard that might not be touched for decades. And at 27, she has years to go.

On top of it, she’s trying to compete at a high level in mixed martial arts. She’s not a great MMA fighter yet, not by a long shot. But the mere fact that she’s in a significant promotion and trying to fight the best MMA fighters says a lot about her character and her eagerness to prove herself the best.

Women’s game shines as men bicker

We’re blessed to have so many great women’s fighters, and the divisions are only going to get deeper as the influx in talent continues. And while it’s like hearing someone scratch fingernails across a chalkboard for eight hours in a row talking about whether Terence Crawford will fight Errol Spence or if Gervonta Davis will fight Ryan Garcia, women are signing up for unification bouts and calling out the best in their divisions regularly.

Boxing is a business and the business end of it must be taken care of. But there is far too much talk in men’s boxing about who sells more tickets, who sells more pay-per-view and who, overall, is more popular. It’s nauseating to hear and it’s also an excuse to skip fights that the public wants to see.

There are many great things going on in men’s boxing. The talent level is way up and there are a lot of charismatic fighters with great stories throughout the sport. But the fact that it’s so hard to get the biggest fights made makes it difficult to be a fan.

There are no such problems in the women’s game. Mayer and Baumgardner quickly agreed to fight and spent most of the last two months promoting the hell out of the show. And in the ring, when asked about a rematch, Baumgardner said no because she wanted to try to become the undisputed champion.

When Shields was asked if she would give Marshall a rematch, she gave the answer that her peers in the men’s side should write down on an index card and pull out to use after they fight. Shields said if the fans want to see it, she’s down for a rematch.

That’s the way it should be and that’s why 2022 is clearly the Year of the Woman in boxing.

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