Who’s Out There To Look Up To?

Ash is a female boxer about to turn pro, and with that shift comes an enormous change in what kinds of bouts she can fight, and the possible money on the line. Once pro, she’s no longer eligible for the Olympics, and the purse gets bigger. But women’s boxing is wildly under-resourced. Whereas a male pro boxer at the top of the game can sign a contract for more than 50 million dollars, the best women boxers only bring in a few hundred thousand dollars at the most.

Even though women’s boxing hasn’t been nurtured by promoters or audiences, there are amazing women boxing, and the most promising of the last ten years is Claressa Shields, a young Black woman from Flint Michigan.

Ash comes out of the rich amateur women’s circuit around San Francisco, and would surely have been looking for a role model in the pro field. The best, and maybe only person to look up to would be Shields. Like many amateur women boxers out there, it’s a fair assumption that Ash would voraciously follow Shields’ career highs and lows, which have been extensively documented in numerous articles, videos, tv shows, and in the 2015 documentary T-Rex (which is being adapted to a feature film by Barry Jenkins, of Moonlight fame). Perhaps a love of Claressa is shared by Ash, Robin, and Ryan together?

Watch T-Rex via paid streaming on Amazon Prime Video, Vimeo, Google Play, or YouTube, or find some great excerpts linked here.

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This excellent 2016 article from The Undefeated, “The rise of women’s boxing,” not only discusses Shields specifically, but gives a thorough overview of the field’s challenges, including an interview with another top woman, Heather Hardy:

New York-born and bred, Hardy used to dream about becoming a Yankee. As a child she would even envision herself running out of the bullpen at Yankee Stadium. She watched every game. She knew every stat. But little girls didn’t play baseball.
“I remember feeling like I was sorry I liked it,” she said. “I was sorry I was a girl.”
Later in life, Hardy adopted a new dream: becoming a professional boxer. But as she transitioned out of the amateurs, she was confronted with a harsh reality: Women don’t make much money fighting.
“A bunch of the girls who are pro [told me], ‘Just know this isn’t a life for you; this is a hobby because you’ll never make any money off of it,’” Hardy said.
“And 20 years later, I have that same feeling. I’m sorry I’m a girl.”

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Earlier this year, Kelefah Sanneh profiled Shields for The New Yorker in a wide ranging piece that looks at her fighting style as well as her place in the culture:

Shields is constantly being compared to [MMA fighter Ronda] Rousey, and sometimes she seems frustrated that she has not drawn a similar fan base. “I’ve achieved double of what she have and I’m younger and the hate is off the charts,” Shields recently wrote, on Twitter. (After all, Rousey’s only Olympic medal was merely a bronze, in judo.) One difference, though, is the way that Shields wins. In her eight professional fights, she has looked neither unstoppable, the way Rousey once did, nor untouchable, the way Floyd Mayweather, Jr., usually did. Last summer, a boxer named Hanna Gabriels knocked Shields onto her backside in the first round; Shields recovered and won a wide decision, but the sight of Shields on the mat made it easier to wonder whether she is as good as she is supposed to be. She carries herself like a knockout artist (she has promised to “destroy” Hammer), and she sometimes fights like one, too, stalking her opponent face-first, with her hands down, swinging wide, as if she were a moment away from landing a decisive punch. But Shields has only two knockouts in her eight fights. In general, she brawls and then relies on the judges to name her the winner; this strategy can be ugly, and, given the occasionally unaccountable behavior of boxing judges, it may one day prove disastrous.

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In October 2019, Showtime Sports released the latest installment of the digital franchise THE RISE which profiles boxing’s stars as they grind their way to the top — this time featuring Claressa Shields. The three parts are embedded below.

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Finally, here’s video of Shields vs. Hanna Gabriels in 2018. (For a more recent fight, check out the full video of her bout with Christina Hammer in April 2019):