Detroit — Two-time Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields said Wednesday that for Hanna Gabriels to beat her in their main event title fight Friday at the Masonic Temple, she would have to kill her.
Gabriels did neither.
The youngest women's champion of all-time picked up her sixth consecutive win to remain undefeated as a professional and unify the women's 154- and 168-pound middleweight belts in front of a hypersensitive hometown crowd that lived and died with every punch.
"I am Flint. Michigan lives deep down inside of me, so I knew that they were going to be as strong as I was," Shields said. "I knew I wasn't just fighting for myself inside the ring, I was fighting for Flint, my family, my friends, Michigan, and the USA."
Rounds 2-4 of the fight were tightly contested, and in Round 1, Gabriels looked like she might finally be the one to stop Shields' fairy tale run in the ring when Shields was knocked to the canvas for the first time.
"I didn't really expect her knock her down, to be honest," Gabriels said. "After that knockdown, I didn't even feel like that was an advantage."
To some degree, it wasn't an advantage. Shields said after she was knocked to the ground, she took a deep breath, and thought, "I'm about to whip this girl's (butt)."
"I already knew her arms were thicker than mine, but I didn't know she had any power," Shields said. "So, I told myself, 'Go out there, use your jab, use your skills, and show them why you're the (greatest woman of all-time).'"
In Round 5, Shields found her edge. She began controlling the center of the ring and the fight's pace, and only grew stronger from there. In the sixth round, with her opponent against the ropes, Shields clapped her gloves together to get the crowd behind her before closing in on Gabriels and landing a combo that dizzied the Costa Rican.
“I knew I was well-prepared, so there wasn’t a thought in my mind that when I got knocked down,” Shields said, "I thought, let's show her. If we gotta go all 10 (rounds), I bet you can't knock me down again. I bet you can't finish me."
"I already knew she couldn't."
Friday's telecast on Showtime marked the first time in boxing history a premium channel has featured a card with women's fights as the main and co-main events.
Shields also said Wednesday that she wanted to face Christina Hammer for her seventh fight to further unify the middleweight belts, and it looks like she may get her wish. Hammer (23-0-0) defeated Tori Nelson in the co-main event via unanimous decision to retain her middleweight title.
Hammer said a fight with Shields will "be the biggest fight ever," and has already done her part in hyping a potential bout. During Shields' post-fight interview, Hammer's team paused the celebration to start an altercation that turned physical.
"(Hammer) and her boyfriend, I'm just sick of that whole team disrespecting me," Shields said, adding that she doesn't know who started the fight, but that she was going to finish it.
"I think (everybody) is interested in Hammer vs. Shields," Hammer added. "Claressa is good on the inside, but I can use my distance, my reach, my footwork."
The co-main event belonged to the German from Round 1, as Hammer controlled the pace and landed a majority of clean shots early. Hammer abstained from any damage in the first two rounds as Nelson (17-2-3), who was defeated by Shields in her last fight, often telegraphed her punches with a large left step, which allowed Hammer to dodge them with relative ease.
"I always use my reach, but I have, in the last training season, I put a lot of work inside to stop the uppercut and land some good punches on the inside, some body shots," Hammer said.
Nelson found her footing in Round 3. She was quicker, landing shots to the head and body, and occasionally finding herself pushing Hammer against the ropes for quick bursts of offense.
Still, Nelson’s clean fundamental effort couldn’t compete with the pace of Hammer, and it showed on the judges' scorecards.
To kick off the Showtime telecast, Umar Salamov defeated Brian Howard via ninth-round knockout to become the new International Boxing Federation (IBF) North American light heavyweight champion. The bout looked destined to go the distance, but a strong left hook from Salamov (21-1-0) in the opening minute of Round 9 put Howard (13-1) to sleep.
While certainly a big night for women in boxing, it was also a big night for boxing in Detroit as seven fighters from Michigan fought on the card.
"The Detroit Bad Boy" Joseph Bonas (4-0-0) was the first to make his homecoming, coming out to the ring clad in "Bad Boys" Pistons gear before knocking out Michael Klekotta (1-3-0) in 49 seconds. In an all-Michigan bout, Ja'Rico O'Quinn (9-0-1) of Detroit defeated West Bloomfield's Yaqub Kareem (14-10-1) via fourth-round TKO.
"Lethal" Leon Lawson III (7-0-0) went the distance with Javier Frazier (8-3-1), winning by unanimous decision with all judges scoring the six-round fight 60-53 in favor of the Flint native.
Bakhtiyar Eyubov defeated Nicholas Givhan for the United States Boxing Assocation (USBA) Great Lakes Region Welterweight championship with a seventh-round TKO. Eyubov (14-0-0) rained punches on the Kalamazoo native for all seven rounds, only stopping to stick out his chin and taught his opponent. The fight came to an end when Givhan (21-2-1) spilled into Eyubov's arms after taking a combo to the head.
In the last undercard fight of the evening, Salamov's teammate Aslambek Idigov (13-2) avoided his first professional loss with a 10-round decision victory over Detroit's James Ballard (10-2-0).
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.