Claressa Shields, three-weight world champion, chats exclusively to Sky Sports on being the self-titled GWOAT, her particularly tough journey to the top and ambition to inspire women…
Born and raised in Flint, Michigan, Shields, holder of WBA, WBC and IBF titles and a two-time Olympic champion, is one of the most exciting and charismatic fighters in world boxing at present.
Her record so far reads 12 fights, 12 wins. She’s brash, loud and outlandish, and is part of a rivalry with Britain’s Savannah Marshall which has developed into one of the most sought-after fights in the sport.
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The 27-year-old made her UK debut last month, live on Sky Sports, defeating Ema Kozin in Cardiff on the night Chris Eubank Jr beat Liam Williams. It’s a victory which seems likely to set up an undisputed middleweight championship fight with WBO champion Marshall, who fights Femke Hermans live on Sky Sports this Saturday.
“I am Claressa the GWOAT Shields. The ‘it’ factor with me comes from genuinely loving boxing,” Shields told Sky Sports this week.
“And when I say loving boxing, I not only love to train, and to box and win, but I am actually a fan of boxing, so when it comes to what people want to see, I resemble that and I feel like I am She-Ali: I’m the female version of Muhammad Ali.
“I can speak what’s on my mind, I believe in myself 100 per cent every day, and I’m a work-horse.
“I train very, very hard and I love meeting new people.”
“I come from the bottom. I don’t think people realise what the bottom is”
Coming from Flint, Shields tells her story of poverty, abuse, anger, and at the heart of her life since the age of 11, the sport of boxing…
“I didn’t talk until I was five, and then at the age of 11 I started boxing. It wasn’t until I was about 13/14 I could have full-on conversations.
“I just boxed, kept my head down and did my work. And I had a dream to be the first woman to go box at the Olympics.
“Everywhere I fought, people would say I was more intense than any other woman fighter we’ve ever seen.
“I was the only girl in the gym and fighting against guys with four years’ experience, with only two months’ boxing experience under my belt. I’m just a natural fighter.
“And I went through some things growing up. I got sexually abused when I was five, and that made me angry and confused towards people.
“I watched my mom battle alcohol addiction, and learned how to deal with two people: my mom, and my mom when she drinks. I had to look at it like it was not just one person.
“Honestly church and believing in God too. With the anger I had inside of me, and still do have inside of me, for it to be controlled I have to really be in tune with the Holy Spirit all the time.
“When I look at where I’ve come from, I come from the bottom. I don’t think people realise what the bottom is.
“When I won the Olympics, before I left home I didn’t even have a bed to sleep in.
“You know a pack of noodles is a square? Me and my brother and sisters used to break it up into four pieces and share it. We didn’t even have food to eat.
“I lived three miles from the gym and I used to run there. Could have been snowing, could have been hot. I made my way to the gym.
“Before winning the Olympics at 17, I was sleeping on floors. I used to wash up with a sock, we didn’t have towels. No regular essentials.
“And people wonder why I’m so hungry to succeed. If I didn’t, my family would have been poor forever, and I’m not going to settle for that with the skills I have.
“I had to win the Olympics, I had to win the World Championships. I don’t hate these girls but they don’t understand how much I have to win.”
‘I wanted to be Serena Williams, Beyonce, now girls can see me’
“When I say the greatest of all time, people think of Muhammad Ali, but was Muhammad Ali only great inside the ring? Absolutely not.
“For him to be able to inspire a young girl like me to be able to look in the mirror and say: ‘Hey I’m black and I’m pretty’, he said it when black people were not even allowed to say we looked good.
“He was a man of sticking up for his people, and a man of equality.
“So when I say the greatest woman of all time, yeah I’ve got the muscles and the brawn and the big voice, but outside the ring I represent women. Women in sport, women equality.
“Telling women that when you go into a room full of men you shouldn’t feel intimidated. Speak your truth. Let them know why you’re here. Have a presence.
“I love being a role model. I love hearing from girls like Carline Dubois from the UK, when she says: ‘You inspire me, I want to be like you’.
“And that’s big because when I was growing up I wanted to be Serena Williams. I wanted to be Beyonce.
“Now other girls can be like: ‘We love Serena, we love Beyonce, but I want to be like Claressa Shields’. It means a lot.
“I want to continue to speak up for women, letting them know it’s okay to be yourself.
“There’s not a certain type of woman you have to be. They try to put you in this box and say all this crazy stuff: be skinny, petite, got to be nice, can’t talk too loud, can’t be too aggressive, can’t curse.
“And if you’re outside of that box, they look at you as if you’re not the ideal woman, and not good enough.
“Women need to be themselves and not let social media or fans change them. Do what’s healthy for you.”
The end goal in boxing?
“I think five-time division world champion, six-time division world champion. I think undisputed in three different weight classes instead of two.
“There’s so much. I don’t really know where the end mark is in boxing because I can really accomplish everything I want by the time of 35. But I don’t know what all of that is.
“It may be more than what I think, so I don’t ever put a cap on it.”
Live boxing on Sky Sports
Saturday April 2 – Newcastle
Savannah Marshall vs Femke Hermans – WBO middleweight title
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Saturday April 16 – Coventry
Boxxer Series Tournament: The Lightweights
Sunday May 1 – Las Vegas
Oscar Valdez vs Shakur Stevenson – WBC & WBO super-featherweight titles