In some ways, Saturday’s card at the O2 Arena in London, England, is a celebration of the growth of the women’s game. The 10-fight card is women’s only, including two significant unification bouts at the top.
The play-by-play broadcaster on the ESPN+ stream is a woman, the talented Crystina Poncher.
It would be wrong, though, to tab this card as simply a significant women’s boxing card. It would be better labeled as a significant boxing card, period.
The main event between Claressa Shields, the IBF-WBA-WBC middleweight champion, and Savannah Marshall, the WBO champion, is as good as it gets. It’s the women’s version of the 1981 classic between Thomas Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard: Two elite, unbeaten and highly accomplished athletes at the top of their form meeting for supremacy in their division. Marshall is a -110 favorite at BetMGM, while Shields is +100.
Shields has taken to calling herself the GWOAT — Greatest Woman of All Time — since early in her pro career, and not without reason. She won two Olympic gold medals, the only American to ever do that. She also became the undisputed champion at super welterweight and at middleweight (Marshall now has the WBO belt) and was the unified champion at super middleweight.
She’s 12-0 as a pro and nine of her bouts were for a world title. As an amateur, she not only won two Olympic golds, but she went 64-1.
While no fair and independent observer is ready to definitively crown her as the women’s GOAT yet, she’s no doubt in the conversation.
However, that one in the loss column on her amateur record? Yep, it was to Marshall. In the 2012 AIBA world championships in Qinhuangdao, China, Marshall defeated a 17-year-old Shields 14-8 in the second round en route to the world title.
They didn’t get the chance to rematch in the Olympics in London that year, though, because Marshall was upset by Marina Volnova in the second round. Neither one of them has forgotten it.
“I’m a fan of Claressa Shields,” Marshall said. “What she’s done for the sport is amazing. She’s a pioneer for the sport, but the reality is, she doesn’t beat me. The first time we fought she didn’t perform and she won’t again on [Saturday]. That’s what it is and it kills her. It burns her inside.
“I’ve knocked out people you went 10 rounds with. I’m not just going to beat you. I’m going to hurt you and outbox you. That’s all you need to know. I’m a better fighter. I’ll have all her world titles on [Saturday].”
Shields is as confident as ever, and with good reason, given that all she knows is victory with the exception of that one fight with Marshall. But Shields has rolled through her opposition without much of a sweat and believes she’ll do the same Saturday.
She’s particularly motivated for the bout because she’s heard Marshall speak so much.
“I don’t hate nobody, but I do have a huge dislike for her,” Shields said of Marshall. “My Grandma told me not to use the word hate, so I don’t use it, but I don’t like her and she’s one of my biggest haters.”
No question, though, that Marshall will be the biggest puncher that Shields has faced. Shields herself isn’t a knockout artist. She’s 12-0 with two KOs as a pro and was 64-1 with five KOs as an amateur.
Marshall is 12-0 with 10 KOs as a pro, though she had no knockouts while going 61-16 in the amateurs. Her trainer, Peter Fury, doesn’t care about the amateurs. He marvels at the power she has developed as a pro.
“She’s got devastating power in both hands,” Fury, the uncle and former trainer of lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, told Sky Sports. “By far [she is] the hardest female puncher in history, going back and forward.
“I’ve got somebody who’s 6-foot, who can make various weights with ease, which is a gift in itself, who’s as bodily strong as some men, with weights, cardio. She’s a gifted athlete. The best of Savannah will be too much for anybody.”
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That’s what makes this fight compelling. In order for one of her past opponents to have beaten her, Shields would have needed to have had an off-night, and her opponent would have needed to have the best night of her life.
That’s not the case in this one. Shields is capable of defeating Marshall at her finest, but Marshall, too, is capable of defeating Shields at her best.
“They’re making it out that she’s a big knockout puncher and she’s the only blemish on my record as an amateur and she has the recipe to beat me,” Shields said. “My job is to show everybody in the world that she doesn’t and that I reign supreme in three different weight classes for a reason. If she was the one who was really supreme, she would be champion in three different weight classes and not me.
“She’s a slow fighter and that is going to hurt her. Also, she’s tall but doesn’t know how to fight tall. All that inside stuff isn’t going to work against me.”