Becoming the best requires beating the best.
That’s exactly what Claressa Shields intends to do.
America’s only male or female boxer to repeat as gold medalist, the Flint native is trying to remain patient while working toward bouts against the world’s best pound-for-pound female fighters.
Biding her time, however, has not been easy for Shields.
“I always tell my promoter (Salita Promotions) that I want the girls with the (zeroes) on their records like Tori Nelson, (World Boxing Council super middleweight champion) Nikki Adler and (WBC middleweight champion) Christina Hammer because I feel I have the skills to beat them,” said Shields. “Maybe they feel like I need more professional experience and longer fights first, but I would go anywhere to fight them today.”
(Photo: Karla Cipriano)
Olympic champ Claressa Shields visits IndyCar’s James Hinchcliffe at Belle Isle
For now, the 22-year-old Shields (2-0, 1 KO) must settle for sharpening her skills, fighting more professional rounds and growing accustomed to longer bouts.
Her next chance comes Friday at Detroit’s Masonic Temple, where she’ll face Sydney LeBlanc (4-1-1) in her first eight-round fight. The bout is the third of Shield’s professional career and headlines Salita Promotions’ Detroit Brawl card at Masonic.
At stake, is the vacant WBC silver super middleweight belt.
LeBlanc replaced Shields’ original opponent, Mery Rancier, earlier this week. Rancier, a native of the Dominican Republic, could not fight due to visa issues.
“I really don’t know much about Sydney, but I do know I’ll be testing her chin and her heart in the first round and if he does not have a strong chin and strong heart, she could be in a world of trouble,” Shields said of LeBlanc, who is coming off a decision loss to Maricela Cornejo in April. “I’ll find out right away what she has. I’m prepared to go eight rounds if that’s what it takes.”
Shields, who captured the North American Boxing Federation middleweight title with a fourth-round technical knockout of Szilvia Szabados in March, has prepared by ramping up the conditioning phase of her training, kicking off most days with a run, set of sprints or swim as early as 6 a.m.
“I feel like I’m in shape for 10 rebounds with the work I’ve done like running 3.5 miles in about 27 minutes and swimming which has been hard, but I’m motivated to do it because I won’t win a major title belt if I don’t,” Shields said. “Nobody has to tell me to get out of bed and train in the morning. There has also been a lot of sprints and work on the bag.”
Jason Crutchfield, Shields’ longtime trainer, rarely has found it necessary to motivate his pupil since the day she walked into the gritty, blue-collar basement gym at F.W.C Berston Field House in Flint at age 11.
Shields soon held her own when sparring against boys and became an Olympic champion just six years later.
While she began splitting time between West Palm, Fla. and Flint last fall, Shields remained in her hometown to train for her latest test.
“Claressa is looking better than she did going into the last fight, very sharp,” Crutchfield said. “She has adjusted well to more conditioning to be able to box more rounds. We can’t wait to go to work in the ring Friday.”
While Shields hardly needs more motivation, she recently has been inspired by spending time with Detroit boxing legend Thomas Hearns.
Flint’s Claressa Shields with renowned boxer Thomas Hearns during a weigh-in on Thursday, June 15, 2017. Shields will take on Sydney LeBlanc at Detroit’s Masonic Temple on Friday. (Photo: Karla Cipriano)
Hearns, the first to win a world championship in five divisions, watched Shields train at Berston last month and appeared with her Tuesday as she trained with media members in attendance.
“I had met him before, and as I was leaving (one) time he was like ‘there goes the champ’, and I’m like ‘No way. Did Tommy Hearns just call me ‘champ.’ ’ That was crazy,” she said. “When he saw me working out at Berston and sparring with the guys, he could tell how serious and focused I am. He’s given me advice on things like how to get more power out of my right hand. You can’t help but be inspired to do better with somebody like him supporting you.”
Hearns is far from Shields’ only supporter. It was announced Monday that she has signed a contract with Salita Promotions.
“Salita Promotions has been so supportive of me and is the perfect choice to advance my career,” she said. “Dmitriy Salita, Dennis Turner and everyone cares about me as person and a boxer and completely shares my vision for my career. They are helping me with all aspects from training to marketing my fights, media coverage, medical care and nutrition. They have been like family.”
Shields recently learned she was nominated for a Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Award in the Biggest Powerhouse category. Other nominees are former Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout, Denver Broncos All-Pro linebacker Von Miller and NBA All-Star DeMarcus Cousins, of the New Orleans Pelicans.
The ceremony is July 13 in Los Angeles and will be broadcast three days later. Winners are determined through online voting.
“That was so funny to me because I grew up watching award shows on that channel and people getting slimed and Katy Perry performing one year,” Shields said. “Now, I’m nominated. I couldn’t believe it.”
With a win Friday, Shields will fight Aug. 4 as part of a Showtime telecast against an opponent to be named later. Shields has one in mind.
“We have been in talks with Nikki Adler’s people about getting a fight done this year and it would be great if it could be my next one, but we’ll see if something can be worked out in time,” Shields said of Adler, who is 16-0, including nine knockouts.
Alder has held the WBC super middleweight belt for nearly four years.
Friday’s undercard is headed by a cruiserweight showdown between Detroit’s Demetrius Banks (9-0, 4 KOs) and Russian Alexey Zubov (14-1, 9 KOs).
Banks is coming off a heavyweight decision over previously unbeaten Craig Lewis (13-1-1). The 36-year-old Banks is late-bloomer, who did not begin his professional career until age 32.
There are five other undefeated boxers on the card, including welterweight Bakhtiyar Eyubov (12-0, 10 KOs), who faces Cesar Soriano (27-35-1, 16 KOs) in a six-round bout.
Other six-rounders feature Detroit bantamweight Ja’Rico O’Quinn (6-0, 5 KOs) against Davis Martino (2-2, 2 KOs); Lansing super welterweight Antonio Urista (7-2, 2 KOs) against Serdar Hudayberdiyev (3-0, 2 KOs) and Grand Rapids super lightweight Ramon Guevara (10-24-2, 6 KOs) against Dimash Niyazov (10-0-3, 4 KOs).
A welterweight bout featuring Bellville’s Jacob Bonas (2-0-1, 1 KO) against Clinton Township’s Tony Brooks (1-1) opens the card.
Friday night fights
What: “Detroit Brawl” presented by Salita Promotions.
When: 8 p.m. Friday (doors open at 7; Claressa Shields expected to fight closer to 11).
Where: Masonic Temple, Detroit.
Tickets: From $40-$200. Available at Ticketmaster outlets and ticketmaster.com. Visit salitapromotions.com for more information