MA in Sports Journalism at St Mary's University

Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Women’s boxing: The biggest fight in history

An historic moment in women’s boxing has truly emerged, ready to dive onto our screens on Saturday night. Claressa Shields and Christina Hammer are set to put their undefeated records on the line squaring off in an IBF/WBA/WBC/WBO middleweight unification bout headlined on Showtime in a fight dubbed as the biggest fight in women’s boxing history. Where hyperbole is often over-used in boxing, this is a rare occasional where the statement is justified.

The fight was initially scheduled to take place last year, but Hammer was subject to an unfortunately timed illness which enforced the bout was rearranged. Since then, Shields went on to defeat Femke Hermans via unanimous decision, while Hammer knocked out Elene Sikmashvili in a highly mismatched affair.

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Saturday night’s showdown, taking place at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, is tipped to be vastly more competitive, however. German Christina Hammer undoubtedly represents the more experienced professional, coming into the bout with a record of 24-0 including 11 knockouts. Shields, on the other hand, has shot up the ranks in her short career to date, with a record of 8-0 containing just to two knockouts. Shields, however, built her name through an impressive Olympic career and has materialized as one of America’s most prominent and well-known female talents.

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On the bout, Shields told BBC Sport: “Victory will show that I am the greatest woman of all time.”

“She’s a good fighter but she’s not great, she has a lot of flaws, but they haven’t been exposed because her opponents are girls who probably couldn’t even run a mile on a treadmill,” Shields added.

The comments presented by Shields have a particular ring to them. Not only do they come prior to a fight that has sparked genuine animosity, but they circle a particular and perhaps unpleasant truth. For a fighter at the top of the sport to be matched up against an opponent with seven defeats in their last nine outings shows the lack of options that remain in female boxing.

It’s fights like the one we’re about to witness that will make a difference, however. An elite level fight between two undeniably phenomenal talents can only have positive implications on the future of the sport as a whole.

This is the belief of head of MTK Global foundation and Sky Sports boxing analyst Spencer Fearon, who said: “This is an excellent fight both highly skilled performers – Shields being a two-time Olympic gold medallist and Hammer being a highly skilled boxer and puncher. I’m really looking forward to this fight!”

Where the standard set will be top quality, unfortunately the same can’t be said for the promotion. Yes, those with a specific interest in boxing will be aware of the impending fight and its implications. But this arguably hasn’t caught the attention of the masses, particularly in the UK – a real shame. This is largely due to the lack of promotional power behind it, highlighted by the twitter following, or lack of, possessed by promoter Dmitriy Salita – who has an underwhelming 1381 followers. This is put into perspective when it’s established that Eddie Hearn sits on over 700,000.

Speaking on Boxing Scene, Eddie Hearn: “Dmitry Salita is my friend, but he doesn’t have the promotional platform across social media and across everything to push that as a super-fight. Showtime has tried, but it hasn’t gripped the imagination.”

Head of Sky Sports boxing Adam Smith has also been vastly influential in the rise of female boxing in the UK, giving the likes of Katie Taylor and Shannon Courtenay a platform on which to showcase their talents. Taylor has already unified the lightweight division and looks to gain all four belts on the undercard of the Anthony Joshua vs Miller card in June. Importantly, those at the top recognise the skill that the female boxers possess.

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“Between Chlaressa Shields and Katie Taylor, they’re as good as any male fighter and I think it’s wonderful that the women are being this opportunity, this stage and this platform,” Adam Smith said. 

“We don’t know what’s ahead but certainly there’s been a massive move in the last few years. Let’s see if Katie Taylor can top a sky box office event – I don’t see why not,” he said.

“I’ve been banging on to Eddie Hearn that I want to see her in Ireland, say in County Cork where we had Eubank and Collins fight all those years ago. Maybe we have some sort of summer festival this year or next year when Katie brings her titles home.

“I don’t have any problem with the fact that it could be, and well look at it carefully, a box office event down the road,” Adam reflected.

The future of female boxing certainly looks bright, but this sort of rise has been seen in the past, perhaps most noticeably through the career of Laila Ali, daughter of Muhammad Ali, who fought in the 1990s and 2000s. Ali finished her career with a record of 24-0 including 21 knockouts. Despite the infamous surname, female boxing never truly ignited throughout her career. One can only hope that it’s the upcoming fights, including that between Shields and Hammer, that helps to lift female boxing into the mainstream.

Featured photograph/Wikimedia Commons