Detroit – Flint native Claressa Shields doesn’t want anybody to misunderstand.
“If anybody ever steps up to me, man or woman, I’ll never lose,” said the two-time Olympic gold medalist boxer Wednesday during a press conference at Hotel St. Regis in Detroit.
Shields (5-0, 2 KOs) will face Hanna Gabriels (18-1-1, 11 KOs) at the Masonic Temple Detroit in the main event of Friday night’s boxing event to unify the women’s 154- and 168-pound middleweight belts live on Showtime.
Gabriels is the current titleholder at 154 pounds, Shields at 168.
The historic telecast features women’s championship fights as the co-main and main events for the first time ever – with super middleweight champion Christina Hammer (22-0, 10 KOs) fighting Shields’ last opponent, Tori Nelson (17-1-3, 2 KOs).
According to Shields' manager, former HBO Sports executive Mark Taffet, Friday will be “the greatest night of women’s boxing to date.”
“I promise you, you’ll look back someday, and June 22, 2018 will be the day that people will point to, and they will say, ‘That’s when the glass ceiling was broken,'” Taffet said. “The night three unified champions, three of the best female fighters in the world, three of the best fighters in the world, stepped into the ring, and put it all on the line.”
Promoter Dmitriy Salita added that Friday night’s telecast “is the birth of women’s boxing on television.”
But while Shields, 23, is ecstatic to be the face of the women’s movement in boxing, she also views Friday night as a chance to silence critics who say she’s too young to be considered the greatest female boxer of all time.
“Where I’m from in Flint, Michigan, people have dreams all the time, but we’re not given the opportunity. ... I was in a dark place from the age of 5 years old until I was 17. For someone to try and take away my accomplishments and tell me I’m not the greatest of all time, you have to show me,” Shields said. “I’ve proved it. I got the belts. I’ve got the Olympic gold medals.”
“To beat me, you got to kill me.”
Standing in her way is a Central American fighter who faced her own set of challenges on her way to one of the sport’s marquee moments. Gabriels, 35, said she had to ask permission from the president of Costa Rica to compete as a professional.
“In Costa Rica – it’s a very small country – and to be an athlete is not a privilege,” Gabriels said. “So many people don’t appreciate the opportunities that they have, and we, as women, are grateful for everybody that has joined forces to (showcase) our professionalism and our efforts.”
In the co-main event, Hammer, who has amassed 11 title defenses in her seven years as world champion, is confident that she’ll continue her near-decade of dominance in the ring with Nelson.
“You want these two belts,” Hammer said, holding up her fists, “you’ll have to get past these two weapons.”
Lightweight prospects Umar Salamov and Brian Howard will kick off the Showtime telecast at 10 p.m.