Women’s boxing continues it’s big-time push on October 15th at the 02 Arena in London, as self-proclaimed Greatest Woman Of All Time Claressa Shields seeks to unify all the middleweight titles in a grudge match against her old amateur nemesis, Savannah Marshall. This is a true grudge match as well as a high-stakes game for all the marbles, so we should be treated to some fireworks once they get down to business on Saturday night.
This event was supposed to happen at the end of last month. However, due to the death of Queen Elizabeth II and a hiatus on British sport, the event was pushed back to now. The death of the monarch has also lead to the creation of a special ‘Elizabethan belt’ which both women will compete for, along with multiple middleweight titles, in the main event.
Shields finished her magnificent amateur career back in 2016, having racked up two Olympic golds, two world championships, and a record of sixty-four wins… and one loss. That came to Brit Savannah Marshall, in a qualifying competition back in 2012. Despite the successes she piled on afterwards, they never met again for the chance to avenge it. And the sore spot hasn’t healed since both women turned pro.
Marshall’s own amateur career was successful, but not as stellar and it’s fair to say her progress in the professional game has also been slower. Shields very quickly won multiple titles at three separate weights (super welter, super middle, and the middleweight titles on the line here) whereas Marshall has moved, at middleweight, at a more measured pace, winning her first (and so far only) belt in her ninth fight.
She has however managed to parlay that long-ago amateur win, and a much better professional knockout percentage (including against a couple of common opponents), into a genuinely personal rivalry. She’s rankled Shields enough that the American is willing to fly to the UK not just for this fight itself, but back in April for her win over Emma Kozin, to build herself attention and generate some heat on Marshall’s own turf. Make no mistake, Shields really wants this, and the tension threatens to boil over whenever they’re in the same building.
You can find footage of their amateur fight on YouTube, but it won’t tell you anything much about their chances this weekend. It’s worth a watch as a historical curiosity, but both fighters have—understandably—developed massively since then, with Marshall in particular undergoing a complete transformation from the twitchy point-fighter she was then, so it won’t be the same clash of styles or anything like that.
As for their professional performances: both are pressure fighters nowadays, but of rather different styles. Shields is at heart a swarmer, but has in her recent fights pulled back on that, in order to curtail a tendency to fall in behind her combinations, smothering her own work and leaving herself more vulnerable than she needed to be. Nowadays, she tends to edge into her opponent’s space until they show a response, then aim to beat them to the punch with a rapid and heavy jab behind which she steps in to deliver short combinations, often to the body. She usually aims to step off afterwards and reset, but if it turns into a clinch, she’s not afraid to make it messy and shove her opponent around to create the space she needs to punch her way free. She’s also quite happy to stop pressuring entirely and let her opponent come to her if she thinks she’ll find more openings that way, letting them fall short and cracking them with counters, even backing on to the ropes on occasion, but she may want to avoid that tendency in this particular fight.
That’s because Marshall has become a stalking sort of boxer, loping after her opponent with her lead hand slung low and doing everything in her power to push her opponents back. Her jab isn’t as busy as Shields’, but it’s fast and crafty and, coming from as low as it does, difficult to read. Her main strength, though, is her footwork; cutting the ring and creating angles to open up the space for her powerful and accurate single shots and 1-2s to get through. This is helped by Marshall’s facility with stance shifts, going from orthodox and southpaw back again smoothly, mid-move, and usually both disguised by punches and immediately followed by more into the defensive gaps this creates. Against Shields this will come with some risk, since it’ll be by far the best defense she’s faced as a pro and shifting stances while on the move is never a completely safe business if an opponent sees it coming. But Shields probably doesn’t hit hard enough herself to dissuade her and Marshall’s ability to maintain her own power while doing so is unrivalled in the women’s game.
In light of all that, Shields will almost certainly win if she can keep Marshall backing up. Not doing so wouldn’t ruin her chances, she may well still win the fight on pure volume, which does mean that of the pair she has more routes to victory. However, the Brit’s accuracy and power on the front foot mean letting her get a head of steam is a bad idea which could end in a knockout.
What’s on the undercard?
This card takes the unusual step of being a marquee event composed entirely of women’s fights. The co-main is another multi-belt unification which is almost as interesting as the main event. Alycia Baumgardner came a bit out of nowhere last November to win the WBC super-featherweight title by beating up Terri Harper in her own back yard. The initial plan had been to build the pair into what would have been a lucrative rematch, but Harper decided she could no longer make this weight, so Baumbardner turned her attention to unification and her fellow American Mikaela Mayer. Mayer is 17 and 0 and holding two of the other belts in the division. This doesn’t have the personal history the main event does but both fighters are confident, outspoken, and here to throw hands — so this could be almost as spicy as the leads. If you plan to be there for the main fight (and you should), make time to be there for this as well.
Beyond that, the most notable name is Caroline Dubois, sister of men’s heavyweight prospect Daniel, who’s seen as being possibly an even brighter prospect in her own right. Along with her, the card features a slate of rising women’s boxers who the British broadcaster of this fight, Sky, want to get some eyes on. They won’t be in fights any of them are in any serious danger of losing, which is pretty standard for boxing, but if women’s boxing continues to build, and right now there’s no reason to believe it won’t, you’ll be seeing them in bigger and better fights in future. So it might be worth getting an early eye on them.
Main Card (2 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO middleweight championship: Claressa Shields (159.3) vs. Savannah Marshall (159.3)
IBF, WBC and WBO super featherweight championship: Mikaela Mayer (129.3) vs. Alycia Baumgardner (129.3)
Lightweight: Caroline Dubois (137) vs. Milena Koleva (136.7)
Featherweight: Ebonie Jones (124) vs. Jasmina Nad (120)
Flyweight: Ginny Fuchs (114) vs. Gemma Ruegg (115)
Welterweight: Lauren Price (145.3) vs. Timea Belik (145)
Featherweight: Kariss Artingstall (125) vs. Marina Sakharov (124)
Super welterweight: April Hunter (154) vs. Erica Juana Gabriela Alvarez (152)
Super bantamweight: Sarah Liegmann (125) vs. Bec Connolly (125)
Super flyweight: Shannon Ryan (114) vs. Buchra El Quaissi (117)
Lightweight: Georgia O’Connor 149.3) vs. Joyce Van Ee (152)
You can watch Claressa Shields vs. Savannah Marshall live on ESPN+ on Saturday. The action goes live from the O2 Arena in London, UK at 2PM ET. Shields and Marshall are expected to walk to the ring at around 5PM ET.
ESPN+ costs $9.99 a month (or $99.99 for a year). UK fight fans can watch this bout on Sky Sports.
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