Claressa Shields gives U.S. boxing a puncher's chance at gold medal

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

LONDON – Big talk from boxers is not a new phenomenon. In all too many cases, the punch does not live up to the publicity. Claressa Shields, though, might be a little different.

A 17-year-old middleweight from Flint, Michigan, Shields has so far backed up her tough talk with flying fists and is now just one victory away from an Olympic gold medal.

It takes a certain kind of sass for any fighter to call themselves "Baby Robinson" – after Sugar Ray Robinson, perhaps the greatest boxer in history. But Shields believes she is ready to parlay Olympic success into mainstream stardom.

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"That is what I like to call myself, 'Baby Robinson,'" Shields said. "I feel like I fight like him. I believe I can beat anybody. It feels pretty good to be at this point, but I won’t be celebrating. I just need to go get that gold medal now."

[ Video: USA boxing's worst Olympic results ever ]

Shields's success has been in stark contrast to the disappointment suffered by the U.S. men’s program, which failed to claim a single medal for the first time in its Olympic history.

While Shields has a powerful physique and solid technical skills, much of her success can be attributed to her pugnacious attitude. A semifinal victory over Kazakhstan’s Marina Volnova on Wednesday was a perfect example. Shields wasn't afraid to slug it out with her older and more experienced opponent. Nor was she afraid to also trade some verbal jabs between rounds.

A final scoreline of 29-15 in Shields’s favor was a fair reflection of a one-sided fight, with Volnova receiving a standing eight-count from the referee on two separate occasions. Shields will now face second-seed Nadezda Torlopova of Russia in Thursday's final. And she's confident of delivering a gold medal that would do wonders for her profile if she intends to embark upon a pro career following the Olympics.

"I feel I have come here and really shown what I can do," Shields said. "I hope people like that. I came here to win; there is no point coming otherwise. That’s the target, especially now.

[ Photos: Women's boxing makes Olympic debut ]

"Rio in 2016 sounds pretty good, but I don’t know yet. I have a family to feed. I have a little brother, little sister, mom, dad, my brother in prison, and I want to try to look out for them. I’m going to see how everything goes, get this gold medal, and go from there."

Torlopova will be the latest in a series of much older opponents that Shields has had to face. But she isn't fazed by the challenge, and admits the chance to go home as champion would be "special."

Women’s boxing is making its debut in these Olympics and the sessions have drawn plenty of local interest and large crowds. Shields quickly won over the fans with her punishing shots that drove Volnova backward.

"The game plan was initially just to go to the right and jab and box but she didn’t respect me," Shields said. "So I turned it into a fun game and started banging with her and I got the best of it.

"I was able to pick my shots, make her miss a lot, and it was fun. I was able to put my combinations together; land hard, clean shots; punch straight. I was able to do a lot of things people don’t see women doing. I got the best of every round."

After Errol Spence's quarterfinal defeat, a pair of women were left to represent U.S. boxing. Marlen Esparza had to make do with a bronze medal after losing to China’s world champion, Ren Cancan.

But Shields marches on, into the final – and maybe into the American professional boxing mainstream.

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