Flint native Claressa Shields hears the criticism.
She knows there are some who wished that she’d act more “ladylike.” She knows there are “people who believe that men should box but women shouldn’t.”
And she knows that on Saturday in Mulvane, Kansas, when she puts her WBA and IBF middleweight titles on the line at the Kansas Star Arena and Casino, challenger Hannah Rankin will want to shut her running mouth.
But all of that heat, she told The Detroit News via phone Thursday, “just comes from how great” she is.
“What I’ve been doing, people dream about doing,” Shields said.
At 23, Shields (6-0, 2 KOs) is a two-time Olympic gold medalist. She’s had four world title fights in six professional bouts — and won them all. She even gotten a shout-out on Instagram from rapper 50 Cent this week.
Still, the distinction of becoming an undisputed world champion eludes her. Saturday’s fight with Rankin (5-2, 1 KO), which will be live on the new streaming-service DAZN, is a replacement fight for a main-event bout in Atlantic City with top rival Christina Hammer, whose sudden medical issue forced a postponement.
The fight would have unified Hammer’s WBO and WBC belts with Shields’ titles and crowned an undisputed middleweight champion. And while the since-vacated WBC belt will be up for grabs Saturday night, Shields will have to wait for her chance at Hammer and the WBO strap.
Of course, none of that will matter if Shields is upset by Rankin, Hammer’s top sparring partner — though that possibility hasn’t even entered Shields’ mind.
“I think mentally, I’ve already beat her,” Shields said, noting that Rankin’s “jaw was shaking” as the two squared off for the cameras on Thursday.
“I could just smell so much fear coming off of her. You could see it.”
While Shields and Hammer have their history — Hammer charged the ring after Shields’ victory over Hanna Gabriels at the Masonic Temple in June — Shields hasn’t exactly taken kindly to Rankin.
She said that the Scottish boxer “has it out for her,” adding that Rankin has publicly rooted for her to be defeated in previous bouts, for no other reason than “she just wants me to lose.”
But maybe Rankin’s dislike of Shields isn’t necessarily baseless. Maybe it stems from Shields repeatedly called herself the “GWOAT (greatest woman of all-time)” at such a young age.
In an interview with ringtv.com, Rankin said she disagrees with the way Shields carries herself.
“Each to their own but I don’t feel that she’s as great a role model as she could be for this sport,” Rankin said.
There’s also the element of Rankin’s relationship with Hammer, whose legacy as an undefeated champion is often left behind in the flickering lights of an empty boarding station while the Shields hype train soars by, sounding its whistle.
To Shields, the idea of toning down her personality would feel disingenuous — and counterproductive to what she's trying to achieve.
“What women’s boxing needs … we need attitude, we need some aggression, we need trash talk,” she said. “The girls don’t understand that yet.”
“It’s not about pretty pictures and pretty dresses and bikinis. Women’s boxing is not about that. Women’s boxing is about punching people.”
In her eyes, her trash-talking ways are “changing the game for women’s boxing,” and she has the numbers to back it up.
The 410,000 viewers who tuned into her fight with Gabriels were the most for a “Showtime Boxing: Special Edition” broadcast since 2014, eclipsing the ratings for the heavyweight unification title fight between boxing megastars Anthony Joshua and Joseph Parker in March.
For that reason, Shields has had enough of the double standard regarding her behavior. She wants “equal play, equal pay.” She wants to “make millions.”
And she wants to defeat Rankin on Saturday before bringing down “The Lady Hammer” to become the undisputed middleweight champion.
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.