Claressa Shields says she smells fear in foe

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Detroit — Things can change quickly in boxing, from one punch to one round to one bout.

Or one opponent.

While Claressa Shields was preparing for Friday’s bout in the Detroit Brawl, the winds of change toppled things over earlier this week. Her original opponent, Mery Rancier, had to pull out of the fight because of difficulties with her visa.

Enter Sydney LeBlanc.

On three days’ notice.

Shields, the Flint native, has won her first two pro fights, with one knockout, and is looking to claim the WBC Silver belt, with a win over LeBlanc, who is 4-1-1 in her nine-year career.

It’s tough to prepare for any fight, but on short notice, it’s a different approach altogether.

“When I looked (LeBlanc) up, there was no footage. I didn’t know who I was fighting; I couldn’t even find her height,” Shields, 22, said Thursday at the weigh-in at Greektown Casino. “That’s where my international experience kicks in: I was 77-1 in amateurs and I’ve fought girls all the time without knowing who they were.

“I’ll go in there first round and figure it out and after that, we have seven more rounds.”

In the eight-round main event, LeBlanc has that mystique of the unknown.

Although Shields doesn’t know much about her, LeBlanc knows all too well about her Shields, who won Olympic gold medals in 2012 in London and 2016 in Rio de Janeiro before turning pro in November.

LeBlanc, 33, said she had a fight canceled and when she got the call about the opening against Shields, she jumped at the chance. She didn’t have an amateur career and has had a hard time finding good fights for herself.

Finding a way to pull the upset against Shields in Shields' home state is going to be tough.

“I don’t really have an answer. It’s not just once the bell rings (you figure it out),” LeBlanc said. “You never know how a fight’s going to go. I’m not nervous; I’m excited. Everything’s happening so fast; 48 hours ago, I wasn’t expecting to be here.

“I just had my first fight in four years just about 2 ½ months ago. That was nerve-wracking and I’ve never been nervous for any fight ever before that.”

Shields weighed in at 162.4 pounds and LeBlanc 164 pounds, as the main event in a card that also includes Detroit native Demetrius Banks (9-0, 4 knockouts) against Alexey Zubov (14-1, 9 KOs) as well as five other fights.

Like many weigh-ins, there was some levity when Shields said she smelled the fear from LeBlanc during the opening face-to-face pose.

“I’ve never felt the fear off somebody before; I could feel how scared she was and that was different. She was shaking and scared when we faced off and she didn’t want to talk,” Shields boasted.

“Some girls are not scared of me but she is. I was looking at her and smirking and I had no reason to be mean to her. She was scared enough and I want her to show up for the fight tomorrow.”

But more than that, Shields recognizes the bigger picture of what headlining a big fight card can mean for women’s boxing. While some fans don’t take the women’s sport seriously, she’s committed to trying to uphold the legacy of boxing in Detroit.

Thomas Hearns helped prop up the card with an appearance at the weigh-in as well.

“I have to look really good or people will think women’s boxing is a joke,” Shields said. “When they see me fight, I’m on Showtime in my second bout and it’s bringing back the respect we’ve been yearning for for a long time.”