At just 24, Claressa Shields already has established herself as one of the premier women’s boxers in the world. The only U.S. boxer to ever win two Olympic gold medals, she is the reigning WBC, WBA and IBF middleweight champion and is 8-0 with 2 KO’s. She is also in the midst of preparing for what many consider to be the biggest women’s boxing bout of all time as she is set to square off against German Christina Hammer on Saturday, April 13 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, NJ in a Showtime Boxing: Special Edition (9 p.m. ET/PT) main event. With five belts on the line, the victor will emerge just the second women’s undisputed champion in the sport’s history.
Outside of the ring, Shields, a Flint, Mich. native, is as outspoken as she is in it. She combines advocacy work for her hometown, which in 2017 was named the nation’s poorest city, with a fiery passion for speaking out for strong women and getting more girls into sport.
Ahead of her bout with Hammer, WSF caught up with Shields to discuss the match, the importance of using her platform as an athlete and her advice for athletes transitioning to the professional level.
WSF: How are you feeling ahead of Saturday’s bout?
CS: I feel good. I feel like right now, my mind is just blank, and that’s part of my transformation for the fight. I kind of just zone out. All in all, my body feels great, I’m on weight. I’m just making sure I stay really focused on how I feel. I’m just super ready for the fight.
WSF: The match has been promoted as the most significant women’s boxing event in history. Can you talk about the publicity and why it’s great for the sport?
CS: I think it’s important for women’s boxing because we’ve never made it this far before. I think that some of the hurdles we’ve had to jump over, we’ve never been looked at as good enough to be on television. Now, getting the best women to fight each other, we’re not only on TV but we’re the two best fighting each other. Christina Hammer has a large following in Europe and I have a large following in the U.S., and so now it’s international. We have five belts on the line, this is the first time they’ve put up a Ring belt for a women’s boxing match, and it’s long overdue. We have a Saturday night Showtime main event, and you’ll really get to see that women’s boxers do have fans and do have large followings. You’ll see that we deserve to get paid like the men. You’ll see this fight and everyone will say ‘Wow. We should’ve treated women’s boxers equally a long time ago.’
WSF: We’re in a time when many female athletes are speaking out about pay equity in sport. Why is that issue important to you personally?
CS: It’s important to me because I’m a woman athlete and I’ve been a woman athlete all my life. With myself, I’m spending so much time away from my family, and I can’t start my own family and have my own kids because I’m giving so much of myself to boxing. I have to sacrifice the same as the men. I have to put in just as much hard work, and I have to pay for everything from Airbnb’s to car rentals to gas to gear. All of that stuff, just for this fight and this life. Men are getting paid a lot of money to do this. I know for a fact that I’m only getting about 10% of what a man would be getting if he was fighting at this level for an undisputed title. That needs to change because I’m putting my life on the line just like the men and I’m working just as hard. I’m also doing things that men can’t do. There’s not a man who has become an undisputed champion in nine fights. Not one.
WSF: Outside of boxing, you are one of your hometown’s biggest advocates. Why do you feel it’s important to use your voice to speak out for Flint?
CS: I just try to be a voice for the people who are from Flint. You can’t really break a person from Flint. They’ve already been through too much. I just let them know to keep the hope and keep the faith. When they see me fight on television and I win, it brings so much pride and hope to my city because people from Flint aren’t supposed to be at the top. You look at my background and how I grew up, and it lets them know that they can go through what I went through or worse, and they can still be somebody.
WSF: You’ve also done a ton of work with WSF, including lobbying on Capitol Hill with us for the 2018 National Girls & Women in Sports Day. What motivates you to get more girls into sports?
CS: It builds so much character. People know me as being a two-time Olympic gold medalist boxer, but I played basketball, I played volleyball, ran track and cross country, and it really did help me through life. Even if I hadn’t become an Olympic athlete, it just teaches you discipline and shows you so many things about yourself. To me, sports are a coping method. I compare boxing to how to deal with situations in life. I look at life the same way I look at boxing.
With girls, people have to understand that there are so many definitions of a strong woman. I would get irritated when I’d see people comment on Serena Williams and say that her muscles are too big, or her butt is too big, or she’s too dark, or she’s outspoken. We have strong women everywhere who are outspoken and focused and all different sizes. It’s a double standard. Women can’t express how great they are without being judged, whereas a man can, and that starts young.
When I have daughters, they’re going to know to speak up for themselves, to speak up for how strong they are and how smart they are. They’re going to know that it’s okay to do that and be happy about it and be confident. There’s nothing wrong with that. Confidence in women scares a lot of people.
WSF: You’re a prime example of an athlete who has successfully transitioned from an amateur to a professional. Ahead of the WNBA draft, which is happening soon, what is your advice for athletes who are about to make that move in their careers?
CS: When it comes to transitioning to a higher level, I tell people to follow the five P’s: Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. You have to understand that you have to prepare. You have to push yourself in order to take a step up. You think I did the same training as an amateur as I do now for a 10-round fight? No. You have to up the bar. My mindset, my training, everything had to be very different.
*UPDATE: Claressa Shields defeated Christina Hammer on April 13 and was crowned the undisputed women’s middleweight champion of the world.