Detroit — Claressa Shields reached into her bag and casually retrieved four gold medals, including one each from the 2012 and 2016 Olympics that made her the only U.S. boxer to win back-to-back golds.
Shields said she worked too hard to earn the Olympics golds — the other two were golds from the Pan Am Games — to tuck them in a hiding place.
“What’s somebody going to do? Beat me up,” Shields said, laughing, while also making clear no one would dare mess with her or her medals. “I’m pretty respected in Flint. I’ve got some like street cred going on.”
She has street cred in more than Flint. Shields, 21, will become the first woman to headline a professional fight card on Showtime when she faces Szilvia Szabados in a six-round bout for the NABF middleweight title on March 10 at the MGM Grand Detroit Event Center. Shields won her pro debut in Las Vegas last November.
“It’s a huge deal,” Shields said before a workout with personal coach Jason Crutchfield on Tuesday at Kronk Boxing Community Center. “One, to be the main event for Showtime and being the first woman, there’s been a lot of great women that came before me and the fact they chose me to be the main event and for the first time on Showtime and be on Showtime live, that’s a great deal.
“I’m glad they chose me, because this is the reintroduction of women’s boxing and if you’re going to follow women’s boxing you’re going to have to follow me because I’m one of the best ones that do it. So I think on March 10th there’s going to be a lot of respect thrown to women who box and the women who came before me and the women who have three or four titles and they don’t get the respect that a man would get if he had those same accolades. This is going to bring a lot of attention to women’s boxing.”
Shields discusses her bout March 10 at MGM in Detroit Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
Championing women’s boxing is a major reason why she opted not to train for another Olympics, although as she glanced at the tattoo of Olympics rings and “2 X” on her right bicep, she said, “I could have had three of these.”
She wasn’t seeing a great deal of competition at 165 pounds or much respect for amateur women’s boxing. Now Shields sees her role as creating a legacy for women’s boxing to help it stick, as she said, for longer than just a handful of years.
“I decided to join the fight for women’s boxing in a professional (way),” said Shields, who will turn 22 a few days after the fight. “I decided to fight for what those women fought for when they went to court when they weren’t allowed to box in gyms with the men. I decided to join that fight because I wanted women’s boxing to be a little easier for the little girls coming up behind me. I don’t want it to be as hard for them.
“I didn’t know what to expect when I turned professional. I was scared and I thought it could be the end of boxing for me because everybody kept saying I wouldn’t get any fights and they wouldn’t put me on TV and they don’t respect women’s boxing. But I also turned professional with two Olympic gold medals and that’s something no other American boxer has done, so with that I’ve been getting a lot of respect. I believe I earned it. I decided I want women’s boxing to last forever and I feel like I wanted to give eight to 10 years of my life to women’s boxing for that to happen and to show women are great boxers and I can go out there and I can outshine the men on a bad day.
“I’m definitely carrying women’s boxing right now. I’m the one with the torch. I’m the one that whenever I say something, everybody respects it and it’s the truth because I don’t sugarcoat things. I keep things real. I have to be the one to do good every time I fight. Every time. I really can’t afford to mess up.”
Shields, who weighs 164 pounds, currently is training in Flint with Crutchfield, said the Detroit bout will be her first near home in many years. She said she’s happy to be from Michigan because “that’s where the best boxers are from.”
Crutchfield, who has trained Shields since she was 11, knows how to motivate her and keep her focused.
“He knows what to say to pull that extra dog out of me, and I don’t know if you guys know how much dog I really have in me, I’m not scared of anybody and he knows that,” Shields said to a group of reporters Tuesday. “I’m a boxer, but I can brawl just as good and he’s the one who can pull that out of me. If I’m going to be the best in world as a female boxer, I need him in my corner.”
Shields and her team are finalizing a contract with Universal for a movie about her life and career, and the producers of Moonlight, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture, are involved. She also has a number of endorsements
But her main focus is boxing and winning, boxing and winning. She’s confident she will do plenty of both.
“I don’t think there is a woman who is as skilled as me, but there are women who are stronger, there are women at a smaller weight class who may be faster,” she said. “But I don’t think I’m beatable, I’m sorry, I just don’t think that. Only time will tell but I know every woman is out there getting ready and a lot of women have turned me down to fight because they want more time to get ready and they’re waiting on me to mess up and waiting on me to get comfortable and stop training and thinking they might have a chance to beat me. Of all the women that box, I don’t think any of them work as hard as me. I train extremely hard, and I don’t train to maintain weight or lose weight, I train because I want to get better.”
She is certain she will perform well before the MGM crowd that will heavily be in her favor when she fights Szabados.
“She’s very strong,” Shields said. “She’s not a quitter and she can take a punch, but as far as skill, I don’t think her skill level can do anything with me. I think she’s going to underestimate my power because I don’t know if I look skinny or buff, but I’m pretty buff.
“We’re not going to go all six. I plan on getting her out of there third or fourth round. But my coach wants me to do it first or second. I want to show my skills a little bit on Showtime so maybe third or fourth.”