No matter where Claressa Shields was fighting, whether it would be winning Olympic gold medals in London and Rio de Janeiro, or winning world title fights as a pro in Atlantic City, Kansas or California, she always carried her hometown of Flint, Michigan in her heart.
She constantly fights for clean water in the city, a major issue that has plagued Flint for years and hosted a summer camp to help children cope with anxiety, anger, sadness and depression, among her endeavors.
Yet, for years, the self-described G.W.O.A.T (Greatest Woman Of All Time) never had a homecoming bout in the pro ranks, even after accomplishing more in nine fights than what most boxers couldn't in their entire careers. That changes on October 5 when Shields returns to Flint for not just another fight, but a chance to make history.
Shields, a two-division champion who became the undisputed middleweight champion in her last fight in April, will seek a world title in a third weight class when she takes on Ivana Habazin for the vacant WBO and WBC154-pound titles. It will be the first time Flint gets a look at Shields as a professional. Some may think that a homecoming title bout for Shields is long overdue, but she views this as the perfect time to return home. Shields didn't want to come back to Flint until she had firmly established herself as one of the premier women's boxers in the world.
"I feel like that the fight came at the right time. I wanted to be super accomplished when I went back home to Flint and that's just because I want the kids to see that like I'm from Flint, Michigan and I have accomplished all this. I'm not waiting for the end of my career to come back to Flint, I'm coming back and I'm going back to Flint in the peak of my career," Shields told Fightful in a recent media call.
Never shy to share her feelings and thoughts on a variety of topics, the 24-year-old double Olympic gold medalist has been one of the biggest voices in women’s boxing, advocating for female fighters to get their shot under the bright lights of national television and to compete in 3-minute rounds just like the men do. She does this with a level of confidence only matched by her incredible and ever-expanding list of accomplishments.
That confidence has been one of Shields’ most notable traits as she continues her journey in the pro ranks. Looking at how she views herself and her confidence, Shields hopes that young children feel inspired seeing a strong, confident woman have success in her profession.
“I’ll really just try to go in there and do whatever I say, and I feel like I've been putting on performances that even men aren't putting on. So I don't really feel the need to have to be quiet and has to be whatever they call lady-like. Like I'm a lady and I spoke a lady, and I'm going to do what I want to do and that makes me feel good at night. The day that you can hear me not talking, something is wrong. So I'm going to do what I want to do… So it's about me being comfortable with myself and just being who I am and doing what I'm most comfortable doing. And I feel like I'm being a great role model if I'm doing that because a lot of girls look up to me and they say, ‘You being so confident makes me confident,’ so why would I stop being confident,” Shields said.
But as much as Shields is relishing the opportunity of fighting in front of his friends and family, the fight itself could eventually force Shields to make a decision. Should Shields emerge victorious against Habazin, a former world champion who was one fight away from becoming the undisputed welterweight champion years ago, she will have to decide between fighting at 154 pounds and 160 pounds.
While the practice of fighters holding titles in multiple weight classes at the same has been gaining traction in recent years, those same fighters eventually would be forced to stick to one weight. Between holding the undisputed middleweight titles, returning home and preparing for Habazin, Shields isn’t exactly sure where her future lies.
"I don't really know yet. I feel like it really depends on how I feel doing the fight. I feel great right now. I've been doing great in camp. I've been eating healthy and dropping the weight the way that I'm supposed to. I'm dehydrated. So it's all about going into the fight, actually catching 154, getting on the scale and getting in the ring. So what I'm going to do there is going to fight," Shields said.
Questions surrounding her immediate fight future notwithstanding, Shields has done just about everything one could dream to achieve in boxing, but she firmly believes that there is still plenty of work to be done left. Shields firmly believes that she is women’s boxing’s greatest fighter, but she won’t rest until everyone else believes that as well. Returning home and winning another world title is simply just another box to tick in order to reach her ultimate goal.
"I'm going back while I'm the world champion, while I'm the undisputed champion, while I'm breaking records. I'm bringing the fight back to Flint and I feel like me becoming a three-time division world champion, the best time to do so is now. I feel like that was the perfect fight to bring back to Flint while we have all these other fights that are going on. I just feel like right now is the right time to just inspire the city and inspire the kids," Shields said.
Shields vs. Habazin for the vacant WBO and WBC junior middleweight titles headlines a Showtime-televised card from Flint, Michigan on October 5.