San Diego, Calif., April 12, 2019 – One year ago in Detroit, WBA/WBC/IBF women’s middleweight champion Claressa “T-Rex” Shields of Flint, Michigan, and WBO women’s champion Christina “Lady” Hammer of Germany both defended their titles with ease, setting up an unprecedented women’s super fight to unify the division.
It’s taken until now to make it happen. It was worth the wait, and the fight getting all the fanfare it deserves including a showcase as the main event on a Showtime Boxing card from Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall on Saturday starting at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.
Both fighters made weight, Shields at 159.4 and Hammer at 159 even. Shields’s fellow Flint native and boxer Andre Dirrell made a cameo appearance dressed as Shields’ “T-Rex” namesake.
All the belts at stake in unification fight
Shields (8-0, 2 KOs), age 24, who is also a two-time Olympic gold medalist, knows the stakes couldn’t be higher for her. It’s about even more than the belts.
“The Greatest Woman of All Time, that’s what we have on the line, to move women’s boxing forward,” said Shields. “I’m going to go out there and give the best version of myself and be happy with that. Of course the first goal is to win, but I’m definitely going to go out there and be the sharpest, fastest, strong punching Claressa Shields you’ve ever seen in your life.”
Hammer (24-0-1, 11 KOs), age 28, doesn’t agree on much with Shields, but they think alike on the significance of the fight. “It’s great. You see the people are so interested in these fights … We built this fight so much up, we’re waiting for this time. This time will be awesome, a real game changer for women’s boxing. You see the world exploding!”
Women’s boxing still fighting for its place
Wwomen’s boxing has existed in some form unofficially as long as men have been putting fists to the test, but there were no sanctioned bouts until well into the 20th Century. RING Magazine featured Cathy Davis as the first female boxer on its cover in the 1970s. Women’s boxing rode a wave of expanding opportunities in women’s professional sports in the 1990s. Laila Ali, Lucia Rijker, Laura Serrano, and Christy Martin gained some prominence. But it took another 20 years for women to gain a serious foothold. Women’s boxing joined the Olympic Games in 2012 for the first time.
The timing could not have been better for the ambitious Shields, who won back-to-back middleweight gold medals. In Europe where women’s professional boxing began to flourish, Hammer won the WBO middleweight title in 2010 at age 20, the younger woman to do so at the time.
So often, potential rivals in boxing don’t meet in the ring due to differences in their career timelines, or a failure to find a meeting place between weight classes. In some cases, a champion won’t put his or her championship at risk. There are no such barriers between Shields and Hammer. It sets up one woman to become only the second unified division champion and the first at middleweight.
“I worked hard for this and now is the time to show the world who the real champion is and who Christina Hammer really is,” said the challenger. “I’ve sacrificed everything and I feel like it’s my time. I’m a long-time champion and have a lot of experience. I’m not afraid of her and I’m ready.”
Hammer believes her two-inch height and reach advantage give her the tools to win. “I have to hold her at distance with my jab, keep the shots straight to her. She is coming from across, outside. I have to focus every round if I want to beat her,” said Hammer.
The confident Shields has brushed off Hammer’s size advantage. “I’m going to go out there and be the best version of myself. She won’t be able to beat me. I want to test her heart and see how strong she actually is. I’m relaxed and that’s how I know it’s going to be a good fight. This is just the beginning for me. These fights will only get bigger.”
Prediction: Stick to your plan and win all the belts
Claressa Shields has made the bigger splash in the sport, but only now is she developing the finesse, movement, and power she needs to succeed long-term in the professional ranks. Give credit to trainer John David Jackson, who will be working with Shields in their third bout Saturday. Shields’ improvement was evident against Femke Hermans in December. Her footwork and punch quality is much improved. She is landing shots flush, and she drives to the body nicely. Shields is shaking off some of the wildness of her amateur days.
Hammer, originally born in Kazakhstan, admires her successful countryman Gennady Golovkin. She is a finesse fighter, using her height and reach to fight from the outside. Hammer can jab from the outside, stick and move all night long. She’s never been dropped, unlike Shields who made a mistake against Hanna Gabriels and suffered a first round flash knockdown before coming back to win a decision. Hammer isn’t likely to move in close enough and she should not take a chance getting hit on the way in. She needs to avoid being pinned on the ropes. Mobiity is her friend.
Two minute rounds work against the ability for the women pros to score knockouts or TKO wins. This fight is likely to go to the cards. If Shields continues to show the good progress she’s made with Jackson, and she remains disciplined about hitting Hammer hard to the body, she will win the fight.
Hammer needs to make it a technical, defensive fight. If she can frustrate Shields, she can win. She must stay busy behind her jab, or the judges who like to see activity will penalize her for a meager punch rate.
In an interview, former world champion and now promoter Christy Martin had nothing but praise for both women. “I think Shields deserves credit for taking a real, legitimate fight. I applaud Hammer for coming here to challenge her. I anticipate a really good fight.”
New York based referee Sparkle Lee is assigned to this unification fight, a nice touch by the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board.
Undercard action: from female featherweights to the big men
On the undercard, Elena Gradiner of Russia (9-0, 2 KOs) and Brenda Karen Carabajal of Argentina (15-4-1, 9 KOs) fight for the interim IBF World Featherweight title
American heavyweight Jermaine Franklin of Saginaw, Michigan (17-0, 13 KOs) takes another step toward his career goals against Rydell Booker of Detroit (25-1, 12 KOs). At age 24, Franklin belongs to the next generation of ambitious yuoung heavyweights working for their shot at the top names. He should have little trouble in his showcase match with Booker. The 38-year-old spent 14 years out of the ring after losing to James Toney in 2004. He returned last year and scored two knockouts, so Franklin can’t be careless.
Franklin is a smaller heavyweight at just 6-1. “Boxing is something I couldn’t give up if I wanted to. I could play other sports but I find my passion in the gym.” Said Franklin.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal is an award winning boxing journalist covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
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