The following appeared in this week's edition of the Fightful Boxing Newsletter, which publishes each Thursday at 6 AM ET.
Female Boxer Of The Year: Claressa Shields
In recent years, sports has started to take an increased interest in women becoming a part of the mainstream sports landscape and 2017 was a big year for female boxers. There is probably no one who made a bigger impact in women’s boxing than Claressa Shields.
Shields has turned into a women's boxing star since winning her second Olympic gold medal in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, becoming the first American boxer to win two Olympic gold medals. She turned pro soon afterwards and has found nothing but success.
Shields’ 2017, her first full year as a professional boxer, was about as successful as one can be. Her first fight in March, her second professional fight, saw her win the NABF female middleweight title in a fight that headlined a boxing telecast for the first time in the network’s history (Back in January, Amanda Serrano headlined a boxing card on Showtime Extreme, a different channel on the Showtime family of channels).
It was only at that point that people started to take notice in her incredible potential as a professional boxer. Shields followed up the win in March with a win over last-minute replacement Sydney LeBlanc in June to pick up the vacant WBC Silver female super middleweight title.
Shields won the unified WBC and IBF women's super middleweight title after a TKO win over champion Nikki Adler in the fifth round of a ShoBox: The Next Generation card. What's amazing is that this was Shields' fourth career pro fight.
The fight was very one-sided from the beginning, with Shields dominating the fight with various combinations and limiting Adler to having little offense in the fight. Shields was so confident in her victory that she even began to have both of her hands down in the fifth round, swaying them back and forth, taunting the champion.
Boxing is just one of several sports where women have been viewed more as stars. Other combat sports, such as mixed martial arts and professional wrestling, have also gotten more popular thanks to recent female stars.
When I spoke with legendary boxing referee Joe Cortez back in 2017, he said the sport is entering a new era, an era where women can thrive and are thriving as athletes and as role models, one that women such as Shields and Amanda Serrano currently are.
“It’s a new generation,” Cortez said. “Female boxing it’s the in-thing now, rightfully so. I have three daughters myself, so I’m glad seeing women doing stuff in boxing and in any sport. I think they should have equal rights such as anybody else to do what they want to do, [make] their dreams come true and be a fighter like Serrano is. Now you’re going to see 50 percent of the fans are going to end up being female and I think that is great for boxing.”
Shields isn’t just a star in the making: she already is one. Shields has risen up the ranks like no female American has done so in recent memory. From Olympic hero to world champion, Shields appears to be one of Showtime’s long-term projects in the hopes she becomes this generation’s Laila Ali, who coincidentally, was an inspiration to Shields.
At just 22 years old, Shields has been breaking down gender barriers and is quickly becoming one of sports' next biggest female athletes, showcasing a level of dominance that is (dare I say) Ronda Rousey-esque in her respective sport. Showtime is fully behind raising women's boxing and with Shields as their go-to star, young women all over the world have a role model to look up to in the hopes that they themselves could become a world champion boxer like Shields.
Honorable Mentions (In No Order):
- Amanda Serrano: Serrano made her case as the best female pound-for-pound boxer with a year that saw her win all four of her fights with relative ease. Serrano defended her WBO super bantamweight title twice and became the first Puerto Rican boxer in history to win a world title in five different weight classes.
- Katie Taylor: Taylor was extremely busy in 2017, winning six fights and not having a break between fights longer than three months. Taylor captured world title gold in October by winning the WBA lightweight title and then later defending it in December.
- Cecilia Braekhus: Braekhus continued to show that she is perhaps the most unbeatable female boxer on the planet. Breakhus defended her unified IBF/IBO/WBA/WBC/WBO welterweight titles (yes five titles) in winning all three of her fights in 2017.
- Naoko Fujioka: After losing to Jessica Chavez in 2016 with the WBC flyweight title on the line, Fujioka bounced back by winning a world title in two different weight classes in 2017. Fujioka defeated Isabel Millan in March to capture the WBA flyweight title and then beating Yokasta Valle in December to win the WBO light flyweight title, becoming the second woman in 2017 to win a world title in five different weight classes throughout her career.