The best thing that could happen for the career of Claressa Shields, and by extension for the popularity of women’s boxing, is that Shields would enter the 10th round of her undisputed middleweight title fight Saturday on Showtime at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, hopelessly behind on the scorecards.
And for Hammer to have popped Shields relentlessly with her jab, to the point that Shields’ face is swelling and that her eyes are slits as she comes out for the final round.
In the dream scenario, Shields would come out harder in the 10th than she had in any of the first nine rounds, catch Hammer with a shot, and then rally to dramatically finish her in the waning seconds.
It would give Shields, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and two weight division pro champion, all four middleweight belts and an epic performance that may help to convert a largely apathetic audience.
For whatever reason, women’s boxing hasn’t resonated in the United States despite the presence of a slew of elite fighters. Shields, who enters Saturday’s bout with an 8-0 record and two knockouts, already has dubbed herself the GWOAT, or the greatest woman of all-time in boxing. Not even Floyd Mayweather was brash enough to call himself the GOAT after just eight pro bouts.
Largely because it’s been a marketing tool and we’ve been bombarded with it for nearly the last year, media have gone along with the tagline that Shields-Hammer is the biggest fight in women’s boxing history. Is it? Who knows? Until two years ago, virtually no one in the U.S. paid attention to women’s boxing, so the history is largely unknown.
Whether it is or whether it isn’t doesn’t matter, though, in the grand scheme of things. What matters is that Shields and Hammer put on a fight that resonates with the audience and leaves them wanting to see more.
The pressure in this fight rests squarely on Shields’ shoulders. She’s the one who has done most of the talking. She’s the one who called herself the best ever. She’s the woman who by force of personality has squeezed her way into the conversation.
But when you talk like Shields has talked, the public expects results. Hammer has three inches in height and reach, and a sharp jab she can use to keep Shields on the outside.
Shields is more of a pressure fighter. She’s not a knockout artist, as her 25 percent knockout ratio as a pro would attest, but she has the ability to hurt Hammer. She’ll have to slip the jab and work at that intermediate distance where she can go at Hammer’s body and catch her with some uppercuts.
Hammer’s task is to create angles and not allow Shields to pressure her. Shields has been down before, as she is so aggressive she’ll rush to get inside and not punch her way in, and she will occasionally leave herself open.
Hammer doesn’t seem concerned by Shields’ pressure.
“I’m a long-time champion and I know what to do in the ring,” said Hammer, who won her first world title in her eighth pro fight when she stopped Teresa Perozzi in the second to claim the vacant WBO middleweight title.
“I know I have the skills to beat her. I have great footwork and my goal is to beat her badly.”
Beating Shields, let alone beating her badly, has been next-to-impossible for any woman to do. Her only loss came as an amateur when she was 17 at the 2012 women’s world championships in Qinhuangdao, China, when Savannah Marshall won a decision over her.
Shields contends Marshall ran and that the bout was scored unfairly.
With that blip aside, Shields was 77-1 as an amateur with 19 knockouts and those two Olympic gold medals, and is now 8-0 as a pro.
She’s beaten women bigger than her and smaller than her, faster than she is and slower. The one constant is that Shields has repeatedly found a way to win.
She’s never met anyone quite like Hammer, who is 24-0 with 11 KOs and doesn’t figure to be intimidated by either Shields or the moment.
This is the moment she’s dreamed about for years. It’s her introduction to the masses and the time that she can prove that her brash talk is more than just words.
Anyone can talk, but not everyone can fight.
Shields can do both.
Look for her to make adjustments and outwork Hammer to claim a clear unanimous decision. It would be better for marketing purposes if she’d have to come back and score a dramatic, last-second win, but to Shields, winning is all that matters.
This is her time, and she’s going to deliver a performance worthy of all the hype.
More from Yahoo Sports: