Claressa Shields Makes Her Own Way
By Caryn A. Tate on March 5, 2021
The fight is available as a pay-per-view for $29.99 on FITE, starting at 6pm PST/9pm EST.
Tonight, Claressa “T-Rex” Shields (10-0, 2 KOs) faces fellow undefeated Marie-Eve Dicaire (17-0) in a 10-round bout for the undisputed junior middleweight (154-pound) world titles. If Shields wins, she’ll be the first fighter ever to become undisputed champion in two different weight classes during the “four-belt” era (presently the WBC/WBO/WBA/IBF world titles are all given widespread recognition).
The fight is available as a pay-per-view for $29.99 on FITE, starting at 6pm PST/9pm EST. Shields and DiCaire are the headliners, but the entire four-fight card is all women boxers. Olympic bronze medalist Marlen Esparza will also appear on the undercard.
Claressa Shields: The Background
Shields is a highly decorated boxer. She’s a two-time Olympic gold medalist, winning the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games. No other American boxer has ever won two back-to-back Olympic gold medals. As a professional, she’s won multiple world titles in three different divisions: super middleweight, middleweight, and now at junior middleweight. She was undisputed world champion also at middleweight, when she impressively defeated longtime champion Christina Hammer in a one-sided drubbing.
As a fighter, there aren’t many better than Shields. She has the fundamental excellence that brings to mind a young Floyd Mayweather Jr.; she demonstrates the speed, mental quickness, and confidence exemplified by a prime Roy Jones Jr.; and she has the heart and iron will to force her foe to deal with her on her own terms, reminiscent of Andre Ward.
These are lofty comparisons. But they are warranted. Watch Shields’ 2016 Olympic gold medal win to be wowed by some of her skills, and her 2019 domination of Christina Hammer (who at the time was seen as a very tough out for Shields; in fact, many picked Hammer to win the fight).
Historically, female fighters haven’t had the opportunities that male fighters do. For example, five-division world champion Layla McCarter has told me about the multiple gyms that wouldn’t allow her or any other woman to train there, simply for being female. Until 2012, female boxing was not allowed to be an Olympic sport.
What this means is female boxers typically haven’t had the ability to learn their craft nearly as well as their male counterparts. How would one go about finding a good trainer if you aren’t even allowed into your local boxing gym? The other issue is that female fighters earn a great deal less money, so they often have to hold down other “day” jobs while trying to train at boxing in their free time. This is why even the best female boxers tend to have several early losses on their records: they have to learn on the job.
Shields has gone about changing that, little bit by little bit. Tonight, by headlining her first pay-per-view that is on an independent platform like FITE, she’s taking it a step further.
From Showtime to Independent Pay-Per-View
The majority of Shields’ professional fights have been broadcast by Showtime, but they and Shields’ team were unable to come to an agreement to broadcast the Dicaire bout. Shields claims that while there was no written agreement, Showtime gave her every impression that they would be showing her next fight. Instead, the date kept getting pushed out, and then she heard nothing. Finally, she and her team decided to take matters into their own hands. Hence the independent pay-per-view on FITE.
In business, numbers matter most. It’s interesting to note the viewership numbers for Shields and her contemporaries during the period between 2017-2019.
Shields’ most-viewed Showtime event was versus Hanna Gabriels in 2018, which saw peak viewership of 410,000. Against Hammer, the numbers reached a peak of 369,000. In Shields’ most recent out against Habazin, the peak viewership was 288,000.
Comparatively, unified heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua facing Carlos Takam in 2017 peaked at 361,000 on Showtime. In 2019, Jermall Charlo vs. Brandon Adams peaked at 434,000, averaging 270,000 throughout the broadcast. Gervonta Davis (who has gone on to headline pay-per-views himself) faced Hugo Ruiz in 2019 and that broadcast was viewed by a peak number of 487,000 on Showtime.
The numbers are comparable, and they indicate that Shields’ viewership is on par with most other Showtime boxing shows. Shields stated that while Showtime did produce promotional shows surrounding her (like their behind-the-scenes “All Access” show), they did so only four weeks out from her fights, as opposed to eight weeks with their male fighters.
From Boxing to MMA, and Back
Recently, Shields has decided to begin her journey into the sport of MMA. Over the past several months she’s begun training at the famed Jackson Wink MMA gym, where she’s been working with the likes of Jon Jones and sparring with Holly Holm (who was also once a champion boxer before turning to MMA). Shields has signed with PFL and has stated she’ll have her first MMA fight in June 2021.
Claressa has been open about the reason she’s started training in MMA; yes, she wants to challenge herself as a combat athlete, but the difference in how these sports treat their female athletes is the primary motivator. In MMA, women like Holm or Ronda Rousey or Amanda Nunes are paid similar to their male counterparts and are given the same cards, the same opportunities, as the male MMA fighters, so they develop huge fanbases and the ability to showcase their talents on the big stage.
It’s disappointing that an athlete as decorated, accomplished, and skillful as Claressa Shields has been treated in such a way by her chosen sport that she feels the need to learn an entirely new discipline in order to make the money and the accolades she deserves. And now, in boxing, that she’s been forced to take things into her own hands says it all.
Shields as an Innovator
All eyes are now on this FITE pay-per-view to see how it sells. Regardless of its numbers, it’s a start, so even if the viewers aren’t as high as Shields and other female boxing supporters may like, it’s better than sitting on the sidelines and not getting seen by anyone (or getting paid).
Still, at the end of the day, Shields continues to inspire other people by making a way where there currently isn’t one. She’s doing what every entrepreneur, every highly successful creator, has done throughout history: make a trail for others to follow.