Christina Hammer, Claressa Shields agree their superfight will be a game-changer for women's boxing

·Combat columnist
Claressa Shields (L) and Christina Hammer face-off during a news conference at the Dream Hotel Downtown in New York. (Getty Images)
Claressa Shields (L) and Christina Hammer face-off during a news conference at the Dream Hotel Downtown in New York. (Getty Images)

Quick, name the biggest fight in women’s boxing history?

It’s a tough one.

What would have been the biggest, Laila Ali against Ann Wolfe, never materialized, and the why depends upon whether you ask Ali or Wolfe.

Either way, it didn’t occur. And unlike in men’s boxing, where dozens of epic fights that could be regarded as the most significant ever would quickly come to mind, it’s not quite so easy doing that with the women.

And so, Showtime is rolling with that line in promoting its April 13 match for the undisputed women’s middleweight title between two-time Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields, the IBF-WBA champion, and Christina Hammer, the WBC-WBO champion, at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

Hammer has quietly become one of the most significant boxers in her sport, compiling a 24-0 mark with 11 knockouts while competing the majority of her career in Germany. Shields is a lot more high-profile, both because she became the first American boxer, male or female, to win two gold medals as well as by the force of her personality.

Shields’ persona is just like her style in the ring: Brash, come-forward, in-your-face, never quit.

She was calling herself the GWOAT — the greatest woman of all-time in boxing — after just her third pro fight.

Hammer is, well, different. She’s no shrinking violet — she’s a lingerie model and an online casino operator, in her spare time — and has opinions. For years, she hoped the day would come when women’s boxers would be given their due, and treated the same as women’s mixed martial arts fighters have been since at least 2013, when Ronda Rousey joined the UFC.

It’s been frustrating, she said, to see so many talented women compete without getting the kind of recognition female athletes in other sports routinely receive.

If there is one thing that she agrees with Shields about, though, it is this: Their fight will be a game-changer.

“Of course this is our biggest fight ever,” Hammer told Yahoo Sports. “We’ve never had a fight like this before. You’re talking about an Olympic champion against a world champion with a lot on the line. All the belts are there. Everything is there. I think people really want to see this and I couldn’t be happier that we’re going to do this live in prime time on Showtime, because it gives us the platform we need. It will be a game-changer for women’s boxing.”

Showtime will do an “All Access” show, the first for a women’s fight on U.S. television, and plans an unprecedented promotional and marketing blitz. In truth, it’s about trying to make a star out of Shields.

Middleweight champion Christina Hammer (pictured) and Claressa Shields are set to fight on April 13 in Atlantic City. (Getty Images)
Middleweight champion Christina Hammer (pictured) and Claressa Shields are set to fight on April 13 in Atlantic City. (Getty Images)

Her team, led by former HBO Sports executive Mark Taffet, is astute and has done a terrific job raising her profile in a difficult landscape. Shields has helped not only by being very visible on social media and available to traditional media, but also by challenging herself each time out.

In just eight pro fights, she’s already a two-division champion and has fearlessly set extraordinarily high goals. In some ways, she has set herself up for failure, but she has total belief in herself, so much so that she is talking about knocking out Hammer.

“I want to make her quit,” Shields said. “I don’t want her to just know I’m a good fighter, I want her to know I’m great. I wish we could go 12 rounds, but I’ll be prepared for all 10 rounds.”

Hammer, who at 28 is nearly five full years older than Shields, chuckles at Shields’ bravado. She’s been in there with the best and isn’t easily intimidated.

While the event was set up to push Shields, Hammer isn’t going to cede everything. She’s an intelligent person with a number of business interests, including the casino.

She loves to play poker and compared it to boxing.

“Boxing is the best sport and I love it so much because there are so many dimensions to it,” she said. “And I think I like poker because the way I view it, it is a lot like boxing. You have to have strategy and a good poker face and you have to execute your tactics in each of them. Maybe when I’m done boxing, I will become a professional poker player.”

The sad part is, no matter how good of a fight Shields and Hammer put on, women’s boxing isn’t going to get the kind of jolt that women’s MMA did when Rousey defeated Liz Carmouche at UFC 157 in 2013.

That’s because few promoters make a big-time investment in women’s boxing. Lou DiBella is one of the few who does, and he gets little attention for it.

But a good bout between Shields and Hammer can push the ball down the path where the sport needs to go.

So while it may be impossible to determine the greatest, or most significant, or best women’s boxing match of all time, we can all agree on this: Shields versus Hammer is hugely important for the sport and can have a lot of impact in making boxing a viable career path for female athletes.

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