Claressa Shields never hides her intentions: She’s ready to take on all comers. Problem is, not many women have been eager to pick a fight with Flint’s world champion boxer.
But the two-time Olympic gold medalist has found a worthy opponent — more than worthy, actually — who’ll meet her halfway. Shields will face Hanna Gabriels, the WBO and WBA super welterweight champion, in a June 22 title bout at the Masonic Temple in Detroit. The fight for the vacant IBF and WBA middleweight titles will be televised live as the main event on Showtime, headlining another landmark night for women’s pro boxing.
Shields, who is 5-0 (two KOs) in her young pro career, currently owns the WBC and IBF super middleweight titles, which she defended with a unanimous 10-round decision over Tori Nelson in January in New York. But for this fight, which promoter Dmitriy Salita calls “one of the biggest women’s fights of all time,” the 23-year-old Shields is dropping down in weight class, from 168 pounds to 160, while Gabriels moves up from 154.
“She’s very skilled,” said Shields, who initially began training in late February for an April fight, only to have it twice pushed back a month. “She has a European style, moves around a lot, and she’s powerful. So I’m gonna have to be very alert and watch her, because she’s not gonna be just standing in front of me like some of my other opponents did. The others tried to fight me, but I was too much. But I feel like on the athletic side, me and her kind of meet at the same level.”
Meanwhile, Shields continues to the raise the profile for her sport. She has long had her sights set on a mega-fight with unbeaten WBC middleweight champion Christina Hammer, a bout that’s expected this fall if all goes according to plan. And not coincidentally, Hammer, the 27-year-old German star who is 22-0 with 10 knockouts, will square off against former world champion Nelson (17-1-3, two KOs) on the same June 22 card at the Masonic.
So that’s two women’s bouts as the co-main event for this Showtime broadcast, the significance of which isn’t lost on Shields, who became first woman to headline a fight card on premium cable TV last spring.
“A couple years ago they’d be like, ‘No, absolutely not!’” she said.
Now, the wait is almost over. Assuming everybody makes weight, that is. That shouldn't be an issue for Shields, already busy in Florida with a new trainer, John David Jackson, who has worked with the likes of Shane Mosley and Sergey Kovalev in the past. She has fought at 160 before, and the only thing she’s worried about this time, she laughs, is “making sure I don’t bite nobody’s head off because I’m gonna be so damn aggressive from being hungry.”
Hammer, who has dominated the women’s middleweight division since winning her first 160-pound title in 2010, has been talking up the possibility of a showdown with Shields for some time now. And while the German said she can’t wait “to show my skills, desire and hunger to America,” with her first U.S. fight against Nelson, she also is promising a resounding win that will “send a message to Claressa Shields.”
“Listen, I don’t worry about that kind of stuff,” Shields said, when asked about that Tuesday morning. “I think the message has already been sent. … I’m gonna stay completely focused on the task at hand and my opponent in front of me. And then worry about Hammer when the time comes.
“Now, Hammer may want to send a message to me with Tori Nelson. But I’m not worried about it. Because I would’ve fought Hammer the day after I fought Tori. I would’ve fought Hammer the beginning of this year, last year, whenever she wants to fight. This is all her timing, not mine. I’m just glad that the biggest fight in women’s boxing is getting closer."
Until then, Shields' focus is all on her next opponent. Gabriels (18-1-1, 11 KOs) is no pushover, this being her 12th consecutive world title fight. The 35-year-old Costa Rican won her first world title at welterweight in 2009, claimed her first belt in the 154-pound division in 2010 and became unified champion in 2016. Last October, she avenged the only loss of her pro career with a unanimous decision over Oxandia Castillo.
“This will be a great battle of two world champions, a great night for my country, and a great fight for women’s boxing,” Gabriels said. “I only know one thing: the woman in front of me will lose. I take nothing away from Claressa’s accomplishments, but on June 22 she is facing a three-time world champion and I will take the ‘0’ in her record and prove I am the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.”
Fight Night in Detroit
Main event: Claressa Shields (5-0, two KOs) vs. Hanna Gabriels (18-1-1, 11 KOs) for the vacant IBF and WBA middleweight titles
When: June 22
Where: Masonic Temple in Detroit
TV: 10 p.m., Showtime
Tickets: Available at ticketmaster.com and the Masonic Temple box office at (313) 832-7100. VIP tickets $300; ringside $125; general admission $35-75.