A decade-old amateur defeat, conflicting sparring tales, buckets of bad blood, and fight postponements. It was a long and eventful road to the Claressa Shields vs. Savannah Marshall undisputed middleweight title bout — and it was all worth it. On October 15, at the O2 Arena in London, a sold-out crowd were treated to an exceptional battle, and the winner rubberstamped her greatness.
Shields, 27, claimed a convincing 10-round unanimous decision triumph over the only woman to hold a victory over her (on points at the 2012 amateur world championships). Revenge was sweet for the native of Flint, Michigan, who added Marshall’s WBO title to the IBF, WBA, WBC, and Ring Magazine championships that she brought across the Atlantic.
After Shields scored a shutout 10-round unanimous decision win over Ema Kozin in February, she engaged in a fierce war of words with Marshall outside of the ring in Cardiff, Wales. Two months later, Shields travelled to the U.K. again to watch Marshall destroy former champ Femke Hermans in three. The hype machine for a September 10 date was in full flow and the boxing world eagerly anticipated one of the biggest fights in women’s boxing history. However, the passing of Queen Elizabeth II on September 8 led to the show being cancelled at less than 48 hours’ notice. There was some obvious frustration, but a new date was sourced and the show went ahead five weeks later.
MORE: Round-by-round breakdown of Shields vs. Marshall
Going into the main event, the vast majority of fans and experts were going one of two ways – Shields on points or Marshall by knockout. While both women brought 12-0 records into the fight, it was Marshall’s knockout ratio that caught the eye. The Hartlepool-based puncher had knocked out 10 (83%) of her opponents, whereas Shields had stopped only two (17%).
But while power is useful in professional boxing, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.
Shields, the self-proclaimed GWOAT, turned in a brilliant display, mixing her lightning-quick combination punching with adept defence and ring IQ. Marshall did land some powerful punches, but instead of them having the desired effect, they only served to spur Shields into action. Those versatile multi-punch salvos, aimed at both body and head, landed from round one through 10, and Marshall could not locate the equalizer.
At the bell, both women raised their hands skyward, but the winner was never in doubt. Despite all the pre-fight hostility, there was plenty of respect between the pair once the gloves were off.
The moment, however, belonged to Claressa Shields, who was reinstated as the No. 1 female fighter in the world on The Ring’s mythical pound for pound list.
“I’ve been working hard for a very long time and no one has given me credit,” lamented a tearful Shields during her post-fight interview with Sky Sports in the U.K. “But after a display like that against a tough opponent… I couldn’t even see out of my right eye from rounds six through 10 because she does hit hard. But I bit down, I did what I do in training, and I got the job done.
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“It’s not just a special moment for me, but it’s a special moment for women’s boxing: Savannah Marshall, Alycia Baumgardner, Mikaela Mayer, Caroline Dubois (all of whom appeared on the card). Women’s boxing has been around for a long time, and so many great came before us, but here we are, in London, in front of 20,000 people.”
The champion displayed her wares in the fight and hit all the right notes post-fight. Shields, who has now claimed two undisputed championships at middleweight, and one at junior middleweight, has never looked better and this Fighter of the Year honour is most deserved.
Shields is very special.
Runner up: Katie Taylor
Taylor (22-0, 6 KOs) was a strong contender for Women’s Boxer of the Year following a brilliant points triumph over Amanda Serrano in April.
There were many who felt that the 36-year-old from Bray, Ireland was ready to be taken and that the hard-hitting Serrano was in the right place at the right time. They were wrong. Taylor stood up to the best the Puerto Rican puncher had to offer in Round 5 and made a brilliant tactical switch to outbox her foe in the second half of the fight. Experience prevailed over explosiveness, and Taylor banked enough rounds to earn herself a 10-round split decision.
The undisputed lightweight champ also performed well against Karen Carbajal in October, but it was the Serrano victory that was career-defining.