EXCLUSIVE: CLARESSA – BEHIND THE SHIELD

I have read numerous articles explaining how boxers have grown up either from a broken home, going through foster care or growing up in a life filled with crime. This story is different, it both fascinated and shocked me. It’s the story of Claressa Shields.

It’s well documented that Claressa suffered sexual abuse as a child. That alone is sickening, but I was gobsmacked when I read the perpetrators were Claressa’s mother’s boyfriends.

Bo Shields, father to Claressa  played a huge part in her life. Despite Bo being imprisoned during the early part of Claressa’s life he is the one to thank for the successful boxing career we all get the opportunity to witness.

“I started boxing when I was 11, it was due to my Dad he told me a story about Muhammad Ali and how his daughter Layla Ali took after him. I wanted to take after my Dad to and my Daddy used to be a boxer so I decided I will box for my dad.”

Bo was a street fighter who boxed in underground leagues. Claressa also looked up to Ann Wolfe and ‘The Most Dangerous Woman in the World’ Lucia Rijker with women’s boxing trying to make a breakthrough in the late nineties and early naughties.

Anyone who has watched ‘T-REX’, Claressa’s documentary, will have no doubt that her presence and professionalism was sculpted by one man: Jason Crutchfield. Crutchfield, trained throughout his own professional career by Emmanuel Steward, has become something of good Samaritan in Flint, providing sanctuary during times of trouble for his now-World Champion Shields.

Every boxer will tell you the importance of their coach, your coach will become will take on a father figure role and not only progress you as an athlete but as a human being.

“I’ve played basketball, volleyball, football, track and cross country. Every coach taught me something, they all gave me lifelong advice and that’s what sports initially does. He (Crutchfield) taught me how to eat well, you know with a fork and a knife. He taught me to have manners he also gave me advice on how to keep up my appearance.”

Claressa was very open and honest with FightTalk.net when expanding on this topic.

“In a gym full of guys, I was the only girl, I didn’t know that I wasn’t supposed to have underarm hair I really didn’t ever have anybody to tell me girls aren’t supposed to have under arm hair. My coach was one of the first people to tell me to shave under my arms and shave my legs. I didn’t understand it then but he would tell me it’s different because I’m a girl. Although I’m an athlete, female athletes still need to shave even though the men don’t.”

Still through to this day the 22-year-old World champion relies on her coach for many things.

“I’m a person that relies on my corner. My corner tells me to pick it up, I will pick it up. Regardless of how I feel you have that extra set of eyes (in your team) it’s great to have a corner that you trust. I might feel I’ve dominated a round but I’ve had fights where my coach has told me “Hey that was a close round I want you to pick it up and not get hit as much this round.” It’s all about listening to my corner and my corner has never told me wrong.”

Shields continues by pointing out flaws in other camps compared to hers.

“For an example, Adrien Broner’s corner. I think that at the beginning his coaches were honest with him but his last couple of fights for example against Shawn Porter and against Mikey Garcia his corner was telling him he was winning rounds when he wasn’t and that’s where me and my corner have an understanding. Let’s put pride and ego to the side and let me know if I’m losing because at the end of the day me and my corner both have one main thing in common.” 

Claressa states whilst chuckling to me, “We both wanna win.”

I could not speak to a double Olympic champion without mentioning the 2012 and 2016 games however I didn’t want to speak of the achievements I wanted a boxers stance on the standard of refereeing as it has recently come under scrutiny in every level of the sport.

“Boxing has had bad judges for a while, not just Olympic boxing you know, national level, international and Olympic to the professionals. I mean I think that problem is gonna get solved when they actually have people that are judging the fight have actually been in the ring before like ex fighters you know what I mean. People who have been inside the ring so they can know the importance of giving the decision to the right person it was a lot of commotion at the Olympics (Rio 2016) not just the Mick Conlan (fight) but with the fights of Katie Taylor I watched her fight, I don’t think she lost but I’m not a judge.”

Like many others Claressa is calling for ex-professional fighters to don the black and white uniform.

Yeah you know have ex fighters and people who have been around the ring. Nobody should be judging a fight if they haven’t experienced lacing up some gloves and fighting somebody, at least have five boxing matches or something so they can know what fighters have to go through to get ready for a fight and to come out victorious, how hard you have to work because they don’t understand we don’t need to be giving the decision to the wrong person because of maybe friendship or likeness towards a certain boxer it needs to go to the certain boxer who earned it and they don’t understand the importance of earning it because they would’ve been through it before.”

Just listening to Claressa speak about this issue I could hear the passion she felt towards addressing this issue as we spent a good ten minutes discussing this topic in depth.

“People don’t know what effective punching is and effective punching can be done by a slick boxer and they can also be done by a brawler then you have people who have 50/50 you know half boxer, half brawler. I think I’m a half boxer, half brawler. I adjust. I make sure I win the rounds dominantly. I make sure I win the rounds dominantly so even though the judges have the style they prefer I still think it’s obvious to see who wins the round you have to also keep track of the time sometimes when rounds are close you have to look at who dominated most of the time during that round, if you have three minutes who ever dominated for a minute and thirty-one seconds even though it’s just (by) one second, that’s the person who won that fight.”

A professional record of 4-0 and an amateur record of 78-1. Just the one blip on an otherwise perfect resume. Brit Savannah Marshall boasts that one win over the American but Claressa told me that loss was the reason she is a double Olympic champion today.

“Without that loss I feel like I wouldn’t have won the 2012 Olympics, 2016 Olympics or the world championships. I had my first boxing match at twelve, I was undefeated until seventeen and then I lost. That loss put a different hunger inside of me, it made me train hard, it made me wanna win more and when you wanna win more there’s certain things that you do. You focus more, you eat better, you train harder and you push your body past the limit that you thought was your limit.”

Savannah, now professional herself, signed to Mayweather Promotions and all being well we could well see her move up the rankings into a mandatory position to give us the rematch.

“Of course. I’ve wanted to avenge that loss since it happened. I’ve tried to tell people all the time, in the amateurs it’s so crazy because me and Savannah have only been in the same tournaments four times and every time we have had the opportunities to fight (again) but she always loses the day before so I’ve beaten four girls who have beaten her (in the final) but to me it was satisfaction to know that I dominated someone that beat her but it’s still gonna feel great to get in the ring with her (Savannah).”

Christina Hammer is a name which has circulated around the circuit as an opponent for Shields. Hammer in the last twelve months has made her USA debut and she has even been invited to be ringside January 12th for Claressa’s next bout against Tori Nelson. Some back and forth between the two had broken out on social media after FightTalk.net interviewed Christina Hammer.

“I think when we speak of the middleweight division then that’s the best fight out there. There a lot of good girls at 160, 168 and also 154 but a lot of people don’t know about them because these girls in female boxing don’t post videos on YouTube, they don’t post their videos on their (social media) page. I’m the only female boxer that does that. There are a lot of boxers who would give Christina Hammer a run for her money but they don’t know about them because they’re not on TV. Christina Hammer right now is the most known so that’s the best fight for me in the middleweight division.”

The WBC champion acknowledges the lack of talent left to fight at middleweight, again on social media Shields on many occasions has mentioned moving through the weight divisions.

If you go a weight class down to 154 I believe another super-fight would be between me and Cecilia Brakeus so after I beat Christina Hammer at 160 I’m gon’ take all the belts at 160 and then look forward to dropping down to 154 and calling out Cecilia Brakeus and I will fight a few times at 154 and work my way up the rankings because I know you don’t just get a shot at the champ. For right now the fight in the next year should be me vs Christina Hammer and I think I’m gonna show I’m a whole different level to what she (Hammer) is.”

To finish the interview we spoke very briefly about the upcoming challenge Claressa faces in the experienced Tori Nelson. Shields purely makes a prediction.

“I don’t plan on going all ten rounds with her. I going for a TKO in the sixth or seventh round.”

Written and interviewed by James Lupton.

@R8UND

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