They’ve squared off before in the ring.
But this time, they’ll finally get to settle the score.
Flint boxing champion Claressa Shields, the two-time Olympic gold medalist and owner of four professional world titles, will fight Christina Hammer for the undisputed women’s world middleweight title Nov. 17 in Atlantic City, N.J.
This unification bout — the main event for a live Showtime telecast — is more than a year in the making, and it’s one that was hyped back in June at the Masonic Temple in Detroit, where Shields and Hammer fought on the same card. Shields won a unanimous decision over Hanna Gabriels to claim the vacant IBF and WBA middleweight titles that night, then had a brief altercation with Hammer, who has dominated the middleweight division for nearly eight years, during a post-fight interview on Showtime.
“She’s lucky I wasn’t able to grab her,” Shields said. “I’m just sick of her team disrespecting me. I’ve really got a short fuse for her.”
Now the stage is set for an explosive night that will “will break barriers and set a new bar for women’s boxing,” according to Shields’ manager, Mark Taffet, the former HBO executive who helped launch boxing’s pay-per-view model in the early 1990s.
“It’s personal," Taffet said, "but it’s also beyond that."
Shields, 23, has quickly raised the profile for her sport in just six professional fights (6-0, 2 KOs), making her debut as super middleweight before dropping down to the 160-pound class this year to find new challengers, something that hasn’t been easy to do.
“We seek out the best fighters in the world, and there’ve been a heck of a lot of people that have said no,” Taffet said. “Very few have said yes.”
Which is one reason, he says, that “Lady Hammer,” the 28-year-old veteran (23-0, 10 KOs), who owns the WBC and WBO middleweight belts, “deserves a lot of credit, because she said yes before we’d even finished the question.”
Hammer, born in Kazakhstan but raised in Germany, won her first middleweight title in 2010, added another belt in 2016 and has made four defenses since as a unified champion. In her last fight in Detroit she became the first German fighter to successfully defend a world title in the U.S. since Max Schmeling in 1931
“If you want to be a real champion, you go to fight in every city and every country,” said Hammer, who also has built a successful modeling career while boxing. “I’m really motivated to beat her and to show you can be great in different ways.”
And while Shields has bristled at what she feels is Hammer’s intrusive presence at her recent fights, she also knows what sells.
“People really want to see this fight,” she said. “Not just because of trash talk, but because of the trash talk and the fact we’re great fighters and there’s some personal stuff involved and we’re from two opposite sides of the world, two very different kind of people. ... I don’t think they’d want to see the fight if we were like, ‘Oh, Christina Hammer, I love you so much. Give me a hug and a kiss.’ Nobody wants to see that.”
So, about that edge in experience Hammer claims will be in her corner?
“In the last two years, I don’t know what kind of competition she had,” Shields said. “But if she thinks she’s gonna come over here and it’s gonna be a walk in the park, she’s got another thing coming.”
And as for what’s coming next?
“For me, it’s another step closer to my overall goal to be the greatest woman (boxer) of all time,” said Shields, who plans to eventually take on undisputed welterweight champ Cecilia Braekhus for a third division title at 154 pounds. “I just want to be the No. 1 pound-for-pound and people not question my greatness.”
Her next opponent insists she’s ready with an answer, though.
“You have to show it in the ring,” Hammer said. “And that’s the way we go.”