Claressa Shields won’t make history when, in just her fourth professional fight, she challenges unbeaten WBC super middleweight champion Nikki Adler for the title on Aug. 4 on Showtime at the MGM Grand Detroit, but it is nonetheless a mind-blowing accomplishment.
Shields, 22, is 3-0 with one knockout as a pro. She is best known, to this point in her career for winning the Olympic middleweight gold medal at the 2012 Games in London and the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
In facing Adler for the WBC and vacant IBF belts, she’ll put herself on the short list of boxers who competed for the title the quickest.
Saensak Muangsurin won the WBC super lightweight title in his third pro fight when, a month before his 26th birthday, he knocked out Perico Fernandez in Thailand. Veeraphol Sahaprom was also 26 and in his fourth pro fight when he defeated Daorung Chuwatana on Sept. 17, 1995, for the WBA bantamweight title.
Shields, if she defeats Adler, would tie Sahaprom for the third-fastest to the title.
Three boxers — Jake Skelly in 1892, Pete Rademacher in 1957 and Rafael Lovera in 1975 — made their pro debuts in world title fights. Rademacher was the 1956 Olympic heavyweight gold medalist, and faced heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson in his debut. Patterson knocked Rademacher down six times and stopped him in the sixth round of their bout on Aug. 22, 1957 in Seattle.
They have one common opponent, Szilvia Szabados. Adler defended the title on July 17, 2015, when she defeated Szabados by unanimous decision in Germany. In her second pro fight, on March 10, Shields stopped Szabados in the fourth round of a scheduled six-rounder.
Shields has never done anything the easy way and she’s not as a pro. Her goals, though, are not those of the average 22-year-old professional.
“When you dominate in the amateurs, people know you and you get that respect,” Shields told Yahoo Sports Wednesday. “But when you go pro, you’re starting over from the bottom. It doesn’t come with the same respect. Everybody has more experience, and they’ve fought more rounds. You have to work your way back up and I think I proved how good I am by working my way back up so fast.
“This is just the beginning of my quest. I want to have the world titles at 168, 160 and 154 and I want to go down in history as the women’s best pound-for-pound fighter ever. I don’t want them to keep saying it’s Laila Ali. I don’t want them to say it’s Cecilia Braekhus or Anne Wolfe or Lucia Rijker or Christy Martin. I want to be at the top of that list. Overall, that is my goal. If know that if I — when I — get the world titles 168 and then we work our way to 160 and then 154, as long as I stay undefeated, I believe I can get that recognition.”
When she turned pro, Shields and her management told promoter Dmitriy Salita, himself an ex-boxer, that they wanted the best competition possible as early as possible.
Salita, who was 35-2-1 with 18 KOs as a boxer before retiring in 2013, has been amazed by what Shields has been able to accomplish.
“Claressa is fantastic; she’s a real pro,” Salita said. “Being so successful at the amateur level for such a long time is so difficult. People really don’t understand how extremely difficult it is to win two gold medals back-to-back. It is so, so hard. And to be able to deal with the pressure of life while competing at the highest levels of amateur boxing shows that you have something special inside of you.
“Claressa is an outstanding athlete. Flint, (Mich.), is a very hard place to grow up. Being so successful as a boxer, as an Olympic athlete, growing up in Flint is almost impossible. Claressa, to me is an American hero. She’s an amazing, amazing person and she has an inner strength and an inner drive. She just said she wants to be the best female boxer of all-time and that is her guiding light.”