Claressa Shields vs. Savannah Marshall would be a fight for the ages

After Claressa Shields’ clinical dismantling of Ema Kozin in Cardiff, with ten brutally one-sided rounds inviting awe and grimaces in equal measure, a more competitive duel erupted at ringside. Throughout the course of the fight, Savannah Marshall had sat in the front row with an expression of theatrical boredom, at one stage even pretending to fall asleep. But as the pair came face-to-face in front of the cameras, their longstanding animosity quickly ignited as a shouting match featured all the grand predictions and angry threats that form the fabric of any legacy-defining bout.

It is a tantalizing prospect, and undoubtedly one of the best fights to be made in boxing. Shields is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and holds three of the recognized middleweight world titles. She is an astonishing talent, who perhaps fairly proclaims herself as the greatest female boxer in history, despite still being only 26 years old. Her only defeat of her as an amateur came way back in 2012, in the build-up to the London Games. It was influenced by the harder fists of Marshall, who never achieved such a distinction as an amateur but now holds the only belt out of Shields’ reach from her.

It is a rivalry riven with intrigue and hostility. There is an underlying respect for one another’s ability, but also a personal dislike. For Shields, that defeat remains the only blemish on a path she’s blazed through the sport. And as she fielded questions shortly before midnight in Cardiff, the Michigan native was typically bullish. “I haven’t been impressed with any of Marshall’s fights,” she said spikily. “I think her getting a few easy opponents and a few knockouts have really fed her ego the wrong way. She doesn’t know how to be a world champion. I’m glad the confidence is up the roof because I’m going to beat it out of her.”

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Shields’ own confidence is often constructed as arrogance. Few though you can reasonably claim it is unwarranted or out of place. She was precise and relentless against Kozin, exhibiting her full repertoire of punches, piercing her previously unbeaten opponent’s guard from distance as comfortably as ripping hooks and uppercuts on the inside. She is a technical artist with a genuine nasty streak, cultivated on the streets of Flint after he father was released from prison and showed her videos of Laila Ali. If her personality is divisive, it demands attention. And although Marshall might have attempted to dismiss it, Shields’ performance of her on Saturday night was ruthlessly efficient and resoundingly impressive.

Savannah Marshall is set for major showdown with Claressa Shields this summer

(PA Wire)

Before an undisputed title fight can be made official, Marshall must come through her own mandatory defense against Belgium’s Femke Hermans next month. It will provide the former Team GB star with a chance to make a significant statement. Shields fought Hermans in 2018, winning every single round on all three judges’ scorecards. Marshall’s greatest advantage over Shields though is her height and power from her, and if she can win by knockout it will only serve to enhance the excitement and strain ahead of the summer.

Just a week after Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano belatedly agreed an undisputed fight of their own, for all four lightweight titles at Madison Square Garden in April, it guarantees to be a year that will propel the women’s half of the sport to its greatest heights yet . Marshall hails from Hartlepool and promoter Ben Shalom has suggested the bout with Shields could be held at an outdoor stadium, most likely Newcastle’s St James’s Park. It would be an unprecedented spectacle for a sport in which females in Britain were still banned from competing until as recently as 1996. The imbalances ingrained by history will take far longer to correct, but these are two genuine pick ’em fights between defining figures of this breakthrough era and it will captivate the public unlike anything seen previously.

It is a landmark of progress, aided by a better spotlight, but enforced by undeniable talent. Shields vs Marshall is one of the best fights boxing has to offer, fueled by a decade’s anticipation and ill will. The outcome is anything but certain but, if Saturday night’s face-off only represents the mainstream introduction, the fireworks when the pair meet in the ring will illuminate even the most dated mindsets.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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