Just before the 2016 Olympics, boxing promoter Dmitriy Salita was reading the Wall Street Journal when he realized what a remarkable young talent Claressa Shields was.
That article included talk of Shields’ “serial burglar” father who was often in prison, a mother who was too “unstable to support her,” and about homelessness, hunger, and struggles that few teenagers fathom, let alone experience.
But despite the tough upbringing in Flint, Michigan — a city described as being beset by unemployment, poverty, and drug abuse — Salita felt Shields was destined for stardom, and wanted to get to know her and promote her straight away.
Shields had already won a gold medal at the 2012 Olympic Games and, at the time Salita was reading her story for the first time, she would be gunning for a second gold four years later.
“I read her story,” Salita told Insider recently.
“I read about her accomplishments, and I thought to myself, ‘This is the hottest boxer coming out of the 2016 Olympics.’ Then I tried to get in touch with her. Finally I did, and I’ve been working with her ever since.
“Every one of her [pro] fights has made some type of history, and she’s on a tremendous trajectory.
“It gives me great honor as a promoter, as a fan of this sport, as someone who supports all the positive things happening to women in the country now.
“Claressa is the right woman at the right time to influence positive change, and to be the superstar she’s on her way to becoming.”
Already an Olympic champion aged 17, Shields won a second gold at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro at 21, and finished her amateur career with 77 wins (19 knockouts) against just one loss.
She is the first American of any gender to win back-to-back gold medals in boxing.
Hall-of-Fame boxing analyst Steve Farhood said during a Showtime documentary in 2019: “When Shields grew into a young woman, she radiated a persona that matched her boxing style: Aggressive, bold, intimidating, and unapologetic.
“Some boxers were born to fight [but] Shields was born fighting,” Farhood said.
Perhaps Salita was right all along.
Shields is the Michael Jordan of women’s boxing, Salita says
Matchroom Sport group managing director Eddie Hearn, one of boxing’s most powerful figures, once told Insider that the keys to successful boxing promotion are “perception and hype.”
It is in Salita’s interests to hype Shields as she is arguably the shiniest jewel in the Salita Promotions stable.
But when he says: “Claressa is going to be mentioned along the lines of Pele, Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, and Michael Jordan,” it might not simply be promotional hype.
ESPN, after all, anointed Shields as the inaugural No.1 in its list of the top 10 female boxers competing today.
“Claressa Shields calls herself the boxing GWOAT (Greatest Woman Of All Time), and it’s hard to argue against her,” ESPN reported Thursday.
“She is a historic figure [fighting] at the right time,” Salita told us. “There’s no-one who can duplicate her considering what she’s accomplished as an amateur, where she’s come from.
“Overcome all that, and become the superstar that she now is. She’s just a great role model for women around the world.”
Shields has a flawless, unbeaten record of 10 wins (two knockouts) as a pro, with eight world championship belts won in the super middleweight, middleweight, and super welterweight divisions, and notable wins over Hanna Gabriels and Christina Hammer.
But it is not just about her abilities and accomplishments as a fighter which excite Salita, as he frequently describes Shields as “the one,” and one responsible for many firsts.
As well as being the first American boxer to win back-to-back gold medals at the Olympic Games, Shields in 2017 became the first woman to main-event a boxing match on television, Salita said.
“We just keep pushing and she can keep breaking records.”
Shields is only 25-years-old and there are likely greater fights, accolades, and paychecks ahead.
“We want her to be the first woman to make a million dollars [in a single fight], and think that will happen in the near future,” Salita told us.
So who will Claressa Shields fight next?
Though Salita Promotions was founded in 2011, it organized its debut show of the coronavirus era Thursday, with star super middleweight prospect Vladimir Shishkin boxing efficiently toward a ninth round stoppage in the headline fight.
Before the event, Salita told Insider that Shields, who has not boxed since her January decision win over Ivana Habazin, will contest her first pandemic bout before the end of the year.
“We’re working on finalizing a date for her … she’s going to fight Marie Dicaire for the unified junior middleweight world title and it’s going to be another storied fight.”
Shields won two vacant super welterweight championships, her first in that division, for beating Habazin earlier in the year.
But against the undefeated Dicaire she’d have the opportunity to win another, as the Canadian fighter holds the IBF title.
“We’ll announce [the fight] in the very near future,” Salita said.
Victory over Dicaire would mean a fourth win over an unbeaten boxer, a ninth world championship title in a third weight class, and one step closer to what Salita would call “Michael Jordan” status.
Shields could even venture into Floyd Mayweather territory
Super-fights are in Salita’s cross-hairs as his client Shields has been linked with lucrative fights.
Earlier in the year there was talk Shields could fight GWOAT rival Laila Ali, the 42-year-old daughter of Muhammad Ali, who won world titles in two weight classes before retiring with a record of 24 wins (21 knockouts) in 2007.
That fight never materialized and talk turned to a crossover match involving the two-weight UFC champion Amanda Nunes.
Salita said he has discussed the Nunes fight with her management, and even likened it to the landmark 2017 bout involving Floyd Mayweather and two-weight UFC champion Conor McGregor.
This time, the crossover would involve one boxing rules fight, and another fight using MMA rules.
“We’ve discussed it with them,” Salita said. “I think they’re interested but Amanda Nunes may not be.”
“It would be a great event. [Nunes’] highlights are not about choking someone out, she’s a striker. I think it would be an intriguing match-up.
“But it’s up to Amanda Nunes, it’s up to Laila Ali, these great athletes, champions, they either want to fight Claressa or just use her name. When we talk business, they magically disappear. Nunes some time ago, Ali the latest, they never put the pen to paper and make a deal.
“Claressa’s instructions to me, since I’ve been working with her, are clear: ‘Dmitriy, make the biggest fights possible.’
“We want to make the big, super-fights. Amanda Nunes would be a Mayweather crossover type of fight, and Claressa wants to make it happen.”