Claressa Shields delivers frightful beating vs. Christina Hammer to unify middleweight titles

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Yahoo Sports
Claressa Shields celebrates after defeating Christina Hammer and unifying the middleweight division. (Stephanie Trapp/Showtime)
Claressa Shields celebrates after defeating Christina Hammer and unifying the middleweight division. (Stephanie Trapp/Showtime)

Claressa Shields has just about everything a boxer could want. She has two Olympic gold medals and two amateur world championships. As a pro, she has won championships at middleweight and at super middleweight.

On Saturday at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Shields dominated Christina Hammer in their heavily hyped middleweight unification bout, winning a wide unanimous decision. All three judges scored it 98-92 for Shields. Yahoo Sports had it 99-91 for Shields.

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Shields now joins middleweights Bernard Hopkins and Jermain Taylor, super lightweight Terence Crawford and welterweight Cecilia Braekhus, as the only fighters to hold the IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO belts at the same time.

There’s not much else in the game she could hope to attain. There is just one thing, that despite her greatness and her outstanding performance Saturday that she has yet to gain, and may have trouble finding:

A significant rival.

After a slow first round, Shields dominated Hammer. She slipped punches, she landed consistently and she controlled the tempo of the match throughout.

“I swear, I feel like I’m asleep,” Shields said in the ring with the four belts draped over her body. “Right now, I think I’m dreaming.”

It was a dream performance, though Hammer’s lackluster outing ultimately hurts the perception of Shields. Shields needs someone who can do for her what Joe Frazier did for Muhammad Ali, what Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran did for Sugar Ray Leonard.

Shields is the self-declared GWOAT in women’s boxing — the greatest woman of all-time — but that means little. For it to carry weight, it has to come from others, from those who have observed for years and can weigh the strengths and weaknesses of fighters across generations.

Most experts see Lucia Rijker as the greatest women’s boxer who ever lived, and while Shields was excellent Saturday, Hammer simply wasn’t good enough to bring out that special something that would allow Shields to leapfrog Rijker, especially after she’s had just nine fights.

Hammer fits the part. She entered the bout 24-0 with 11 knockouts and she had a rock-hard body with six-pack abs and muscles on top of muscles.

But when the bell rang, she didn’t seem anything special. She didn’t seem overly quick and didn’t appear to punch particularly hard.

She wasn’t good enough to bring out Shields’ best.

And therein lies the problem for Shields.

Leonard established his greatness with a remarkable win over Roberto Duran in their rematch, and then with a dramatic come-from-behind win over Thomas Hearns in 1981. It was obvious to anyone who saw them that Duran and Hearns were brilliant talents. Such wasn’t the case with Hammer.

Shields did her job in workmanlike manner. By the seventh round, Hammer was shying away and wasn’t letting her hands go at all. Shields hadn’t scored a knockdown as a pro entering the bout, and that didn’t change Saturday despite delivering a frightful beating.

Almost single-handedly, Shields is forcing the American public to pay attention to women’s boxing. There are a number of elite female fighters now active, and Shields may well be the best of them.

She’s the most well-known by a long shot, and while a large part of that is due to the exposure she got in back-to-back Olympic games, she’s almost by force of personality garnered attention first and foremost for herself, but also for her peers.

Shields is a brilliant, generational talent, who needs another brilliant, generational talent to stand across from her to prove her greatness. She called out Braekhus, who holds the welterweight belts, and asked to meet her at the midpoint at 154 pounds.

Maybe Braekhus will be the foil Shields so desperately needs. We thought Hammer might be that person, but it was obvious early on Saturday that she was not.

Shields has the appearance of a generational talent, but until she finds a worthy foe who can help bring out her greatness, questions will continue to abound.

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