AFTER A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE SETBACKS, WE’VE TRULY REACHED THE EVE OF A FANTASTIC FOUR FOR WOMEN’S BOXING HEADLINED BY SHIELDS VS MARSHALL
Seems like we’ve been waiting for Middleweight unified champion Claressa “T-Rex” Shields versus WBO champion Savannah Marshall to happen for an eternity. And, last month we actually made it through all of the customary fight week activity for the long-awaited undisputed showdown. Shields-Marshall is the third undisputed championship of 2022 and no less than the second biggest such fight.
The September 10 event was derailed by the passing of a whole monarch. Queen Elizabeth II passed away on the 8th, and the show screeched to a total halt prior to the weigh-ins.
Shortly after UK’s period of mourning, the bout’s organizers announced October 15 would likely be the new date. Well, we made it through weigh-ins this morning, and barring some impossible hurricane Ian-like natural catastrophe, we all should get Shields-Marshall tomorrow afternoon. We’ll also finally see Junior Lightweight IBF/WBO/Ring champion Mikaela Mayer take on BFF WBC champion Alycia Baumgardner in the co-feature bout.
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This historic all-ladies double-header streams Saturday, live from London’s O2 Arena, starting at 2:30 ET/11:30 PT on ESPN+.
Let’s take a look at the match-ups.
Shields vs Marshall
Two-time Olympic gold medalist and undefeated two-time undisputed champion Claressa Shields (12-0, 2 KOs) branded herself ‘the GWOAT’ after completing her historic run of securing all four world titles at Middleweight and Super Welterweight.
Okay, she declared herself The Greatest Woman of All Time along the way. However, while the 27-year old Flint, Michigan native is synonymous with her polarizing nickname, her brand is winning. At this point everyone knows her only loss in a boxing ring was during her amateur days against Marshall – when she was just 17.
Tomorrow, Shields finally gets to avenge that loss when her and WBO champion Savannah Marshall (12-0, 10 KOs) actually touch ’em up before the first bell.
Shields is a slight underdog on some sites, and a slight favorite on others. If Shields maintains a good balance of come-forward boxing, and mixes in some counter-punching at times, the likelihood of her recovering her WBO title is solid. The American could fall into trying to prove she’s truly a power puncher, and possibly present Marshall with the chance to show whether her vaunted punching power is real versus elite opponents.
Shields’ two knockouts through her dozen pro fights calls her claims of possessing legit power into question. That said, she packs enough of a punch to get ample respect from her foes. She visibly hurt former Middleweight unified champion Christina Hammer, then 24-0, early on in their April 2019 bout. And, Shields punished and dropped Ivana Habazin with a body shot when she moved down to the 154-pound division in January 2020.
The two-division queen simply holds court when in the ring. The knockouts may not be a signature part of her game, but losing rounds in title fights is nearly as rare an occurrence as her stoppages.
The UK’s 31-year old Marshall stands over 5-foot 11-inches ,comes into this fight riding an eight-fight knockout streak, and will benefit greatly from an expectedly hostile hometown crowd. Through most of this showdown’s promotion, the soft-spoken “Silent Assassin” has lived up to that moniker.
Expect the longer Marshall to often be within range of the 5-foot 8-inch Shields. Marshall is more in-and-out movement-wise, mixes in feints well and patiently lays down cover for her power shots with her jab. The Brit’s lead hand will serve her well if Shields’ approach is to wait, slip punches and make Marshall pay with counter punches.
Both fighters exhibit patience when on offense, but we’ve yet to see Marshall’s effectiveness against an opponent with Shields’ defensive prowess. Shields got up off the canvas after a surprising first round knockdown scored by former unified Super Welterweight champion Hanna Gabriel in their June 2018 Middleweight clash.
If Marshall succeeds at boxing, and scoring, with Shields from the outset of the bout we could be in for an intriguing 10 rounds of action. If Shields’ skill level is simply levels above another champion the only suspense may be whether Marshall goes for broke somewhere in the second half of the fight.
Back in April, in a Super Middleweight undisputed fight between Franchon Crews Dezurn and another highly touted puncher in Elin Cederroos, we saw Dezurn fiercely attack the taller Swede within her first few combinations. There aren’t a lot of highly similar throughlines between these two match-ups. But, while Shields isn’t likely to adopt Dezurn’s hard-hitting ambush approach, hopefully Marshall has hardened herself to not go as quietly into the night as her fellow European did back in the Spring. Marshall’s trainer Peter Fury will not be as unprepared with steering his charge through any such adversity.
Lastly, we’ll need to see how the easier going Marshall’s demeanor plays with Shields’ combination of confidence and will. Shields’ detractors often express their hatred for her personality, but that doesn’t overshadow the fact she’s one of combat sports’ fiercest competitors.
Mayer vs Baumgardner
The chief support bout between Junior Lightweight unified champion Mayer (17-0, 5 KOs) and WBC champion Baumgardner (12-1, 7 KOs) has gradually garnered its share of attention from the main event.
This beef is now well-done.
Team Baumgardner’s decision to pass on a 2020 opportunity to face Mayer on ESPN inside Top Rank’s Bubble in Las Vegas, Nevada during the promoter’s crowd-less pandemic series of fights paid off well. The Ohioan felt the limited amount of prep time for her first world title opportunity was both disrespectful and unwise – Baumgardner was Ring Magazine’s 2018 Female Prospect of the Year.
Baumgardner fully bounced back from her July 2018 split decision loss to Christina Linardatou by demolishing undefeated former WBC 130-pound champion Terri Harper in November 2021. The four round masterclass – a DAZN-streamed bout held at Sheffield Arena in Yorkshire, England – culminated in the perfect highlight reel for the 28-year old.
Both Mayer, an Olympic team of Shields, and Baumgardner hold fairly accurate opinions of one another’s skill level. The question becomes whether one of them is discrediting the other.
Trainer Al Mitchell’s impact on California’s Mayer is noteworthy. She’s the taller of the two, and a disciplined boxer with a consistently high work-rate. Mayer responds well to instructions, and makes adjustments in a timely manner. Will her fundamentally sound approach keep Baumgardner at bay for 10 rounds? Can Baumgardner force Mayer to a Plan B?
Despite a highly athletic background, Baumgardner tends to put aside some of her other perceived strengths to rely solely on her right hand at times. Even Shields echoed this part of Mayer’s assessment of her opponent. Her performance against Harper suggests that she’s improved at exploiting opponents’ openings. Waiting against Mayer’s expected volume could be a costly tactical decision for Baumgardner. But, 2018 is a long time ago, and Baumgardner has possibly matured with solving puzzles.
Mayer attacked recklessly during the early rounds of her unification fight versus IBF champion Maiva Hamadouche in November 2021. We saw her operate out of character, but learned about the unified champion’s chin. Mayer accepted the physical toll that’s sometimes required to both make certain statements and create desired future opportunities.
Has Baumgardner’s heel turn during the September fight week, and just this past week, pushed the right buttons to force a similar Mayer outing? We could see Mitchell’s ‘measure twice, cut once’ game plan ignored again.
Ultimately, Mayer-Baumgardner may rival the action of the featured bout, or even steal the show. Baumgardner managed to land a consequential blow – and possibly a low one – at the conclusion of one of the pair’s final stare downs. Mayer exited the stage clearly feeling personally insulted by Baumgardner’s remarks. The WBC champion remained onstage lighter-hearted as if satisfied with finally fully riling up Mayer.
A key development to watch for is which fighter keeps their emotions in check and is able to execute the sharpest through the first two to three rounds. Another crucial detail is either how quickly Baumgardner processes what Mayer is doing, or if she’s more active and decides to box with the longer fighter.
Both of these fights involve a degree of wait and see. And women’s boxing’s two minute rounds only adds additional pressure. Back in April Katie Taylor defended her undisputed Lightweight championship against the dangerous punching Amanda Serrano at Madison Square Garden. That exhilarating clash elevated women’s boxing to another level. Tomorrow afternoon Baumgardner, Mayer, Shields and Marshall capably take hold of the baton for their sport’s next leg.
All photos courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank via Getty Images