Claressa Shields deserves a big platform


George Gigney wonders if putting Claressa Shields on pay-per-view is the smartest move for her and the progress of women’s boxing at this stage

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While we await confirmation of the biggest fight that can be made in the sport – Tyson Fury vs Anthony Joshua, not that it really needs clarifying – we are seeing exciting progress being made elsewhere; particularly within women’s boxing. First, it was announced that Claressa Shields will face Marie Eve Dicaire to unify the super-welterweight titles and crown an undisputed champion at the weight. Is it a great fight? Admittedly, no, though Dicaire is unbeaten and has been champion for two years now. The significance of the fight is in what’s at stake – the chance for Shields to become the first ever undisputed champion in two different weight classes. She previously achieved this at middleweight.

The rather large caveat is that there are far, far fewer active women boxers as opposed to men. At super-welter, for example, there are roughly 50 active female fighters worldwide, compared to over 1,000 active male fighters.

However, should Shields defeat Dicaire her achievements should not be underplayed – she would be making history, and in her hometown of Flint, Michigan, where the fight is taking place. Despite this, news of the fight received minimal coverage even within boxing media. Yes, women’s boxing still has some way to go before it truly cracks the mainstream, and a big part of that battle is having more active fighters, but if exploits such as Shields’ aren’t celebrated now, what chance is there?

What doesn’t help the Shields-Dicaire fight is that it’ll be on pay-per-view. The PPV model serves its purpose in certain scenarios – mainly ensuring big fighters can get the big purses they command – but in this instance, it’s surely just limiting the potential audience.

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Another female undisputed title fight was also announced this week, in the weight decision below; Jessica McCaskill will defend her titles from the woman she won them from, Cecilia Braekhus. This one did pick up more coverage, though mainly because it features on a standout DAZN card that was announced (more on that later).

This is how women’s boxing can continue to grow; having stellar fights like McCaskill-Braekhus 2 feature on high profile bills alongside other excellent match-ups.

Topping the bill is a long-awaited rematch between Juan Francisco Estrada and Roman Gonzalez, a fight that surely guarantees thrills as well as an enormous amount of skill. Elsewhere on the card Hiroto Kyoguchi will defend his light-flyweight title against Axel Aragon Vega.

It’s still hugely encouraging that shows like this can be put together in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s also another success for DAZN, who have faced several crises over the past year.

Indeed, it was recently confirmed that Canelo Alvarez’ next two fights will be on the streaming platform. It is a little confusing that the Mexican superstar fought so hard to terminate his previous contract with DAZN, only to then have his next three fights with them anyway, though at least his longer term options are still his own. His next fight – against a grossly overmatched Avni Yildirim – also signals a marked step up in pace for Canelo’s activity. He is then scheduled to fight again in May; should he keep at that rate, we could be treated to a lot of Alvarez fights in 2021, which would be a real positive for the sport.

What is also exciting for boxing is the increasingly good news trickling out about a potential Fury-Joshua fight. BoxingScene reported that the WBO are no longer going to enforce their mandatory obligations upon Joshua in order to allow a superfight with Fury to happen.

Oleksandr Usyk is the WBO’s current mandatory challenger and his manager, Alexander Krassyuk, told Sky Sports that while they haven’t received a formal offer to step aside, they would be open to it.

Conversely, according to Sports Illustrated, Deontay Wilder and his team are pushing through with their legal battle to get Fury back into the ring with the former champion. Wilder’s manager, Shelley Finkel, confirmed that the process has moved beyond the mediation stage – with Fury reportedly saying he would never fight Wilder again – and will now move into arbitration.

According to Bob Arum, who co-promotes Fury, Wilder’s team don’t have a legal leg to stand on, and the process itself doesn’t seem to be bothering Tyson, whose attention remains fixed on Joshua.

Should Wilder fail in his bid for a trilogy fight with Fury, he’s likely to face Charles Martin instead, according to Winkel. That is a serious step down in class.

Josh Warrington has vacated his IBF featherweight title to open up opportunities to fight leading names in the division like Can Xu and Gary Russell Jnr. The IBF were pushing for Warrington to once again defend against compatriot Kid Galahad, but instead the Leeds fighter is dropping the belt to pursue bigger fights.

Some have questioned the decision, particularly as Warrington recently made the move back to Matchroom Boxing, though it’s a choice that has potentially huge upside. Instead of being tied down by a sanctioning body, Warrington can now pursue the fights he wants, particularly with a major promoter behind him.

As discussed in this column before, the more fighters who demand autonomy away from the major sanctioning bodies, the less strain those belts will have on the sport in terms of enforced mandatories and bizarre rankings.

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Quote of the week surely goes to super-lightweight champion  Josh Taylor who, when asked about rival Jose Ramirez by IFL, said: “Everybody keeps saying, ‘You’re up against an American with Mexican blood.’ They’re tough, but you’ve gotta remember he’s up against a mad Scotsman. We’re hard as f***. The Romans built a wall to keep us out because we were mental.”



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