As Claressa Shields prepares to try to unify the middleweight title, it's long past time female boxers get their due

Combat columnist
Yahoo Sports
IBF-WBA middleweight champion Claressa Shields can become just the sixth boxer in history to hold all four major sanctioning body belts if she defeats Christina Hammer on Nov. 17 in Atlantic City. (Getty Images)
IBF-WBA middleweight champion Claressa Shields can become just the sixth boxer in history to hold all four major sanctioning body belts if she defeats Christina Hammer on Nov. 17 in Atlantic City. (Getty Images)

It shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is.

It shouldn’t be such a rare occurrence, but it is.

It’s shouldn’t be cause for celebration, but it is.

Showtime announced on Tuesday that IBF-WBA middleweight champion Claressa Shields will meet WBC-WBO champion Christina Hammer for the undisputed title in the main event of a card on Nov. 17 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

The winner will become only the sixth boxer to hold all four sanctioning body belts simultaneously, joining ex-middleweight champions Bernard Hopkins and Jermain Taylor, former super lightweight champion Terrence Crawford, cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk and women’s welterweight champion Cecilia Braekhus.

Shields has been breaking barriers ever since turning professional after winning her second consecutive Olympic gold medal at the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016.

She headlines what is quickly becoming a golden era for women’s boxing, but it is time to treat the women the same as the men. A woman has never headlined a card on HBO and Braekhus is the only one who ever fought on HBO.

While Shields has headlined on Showtime’s ShoBox series for young and developing fighters, no woman has been the main event on Showtime’s flagship series.

It’s long overdue. There are more elite women competing now than ever, with Shields, Hammer and Braekhus only a handful of the high-level female boxers. Among the others who are on the verge of stardom are Katie Taylor, Amanda Serrano and Mariana Juarez.

But just as is so often the case in real life, women fighters generally make far less money than their male counterparts. They’re given poor dates and often no television coverage whatsoever. They’re not promoted vigorously and what little promotion is done is often about their looks and physical appearance rather than their skills.

Christina Hammer will defend her WBC and WBO world middleweight belts on Nov. 17 in Atlantic City in a unification bout with IBF-WBA champion Claressa Shields. (Getty Images)
Christina Hammer will defend her WBC and WBO world middleweight belts on Nov. 17 in Atlantic City in a unification bout with IBF-WBA champion Claressa Shields. (Getty Images)

Shields is helping to change that, but the sport has a long way to go to get women where they need to be, which is on an equal playing field with men. The UFC has proven that there is a significant audience for women’s fighting and there is little reason boxing can’t follow suit. But it takes a game plan, money and people committed to making it work and not folding their tents at the first sign of trouble.

The 23-year-old Shields (6-0, 2 KOs) is a remarkable story and has already held a super middleweight world title. Hammer will be by far the most difficult test of her career.

I’ve worked hard my whole life to overcome every obstacle, represent my country and win two Olympic gold medals, and win world championships in two weight divisions as a pro,” Shields said. “I want to be part of the biggest fight in women’s boxing history. I want to be undisputed world middleweight champion. I want women’s boxing to reach new heights, and the only thing standing between me and the achievement of all those goals is Christina Hammer. I will defeat Hammer on Nov. 17, and I will do it in a way that will leave no doubt who is the best in the world.”

The one thing that may be keeping women boxers from breaking through more is a lack of knockouts. Shields’ knockout percentage is 33 percent. Hammer, who is 23-0 with 10 KOs, has a 43.5 percent KO ratio. Braekhus, widely regarded as the top pound-for-pound women’s boxer in the world, is 34-0 with just nine KOs, a rate of 26.5 percent.

That is the only tangible issue where the top women differ from the top men. By contrast, women finish at a high rate in mixed martial arts. Prior to being upset by ex-boxing champion Holly Holm in 2015, Ronda Rousey won her first 12 fights by finish. She had 11 first-round finishes.

Women’s boxing is at an all-time high and the fact that a dominant fighter like Shields is no lock to win on Nov. 17 says much about the depth of the sport.

Hammer, who fought on the same card as Shields in June, believes she’ll come away with the win.

I am beyond excited and motivated to fight Claressa,” Hammer said. “I am the best middleweight in the world and will make that point very clear when we get in the ring. It’s been my dream to fight in the biggest women’s fight of all time and raise women’s boxing to an all-time high. I will be crowned the undisputed middleweight queen on Nov. 17.”

One fight isn’t going to do it. But the promoters and the television executives needs to commit to giving women prime television slots and then make them competitive bouts. They also have to commit to promoting the women with the same vigor they do their male stars.

It’s the 21st century and long past time this should even be a topic.

Sadly, though, it is and will probably remain this way long into the future.

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