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The Hauser Report: Claressa Shields Did What She Had To Do To Win

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The Hauser Report: Claressa Shields Did What She Had To Do To Win

Years from now, historians will write that 2022 was the year when women fighters emerged as a significant force in boxing. Much of that history will key on the April 30 fight between Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano that delivered ten exciting rounds fought at a high skill level before a roaring sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden. On October 15, an all-women fight card at the O2 Arena in London built upon that platform.

The October 15 card was co-promoted by BOXXER and Salita Promotions in association with Top Rank, streamed in the United States on ESPN+, and televised by Sky Sports in the United Kingdom. Originally scheduled for September 10, it was postponed out of respect for the Royal Family following Queen Elizabeth’s death on September 8.

Alycia Baumgardner outpointed Mikaela Mayer in the first co-featured bout on October 15 to claim the WBC, IBF, and WBO 130-pound belts. But the fight that resonated most with the public and had the most historical significance was Claressa Shields’s unanimous-decision triumph over Savannah Marshall for the WBC, WBA, IBF, and WBO 160-pound titles.

Shields, now 27, won a gold medal in the middleweight division at the 2012 London Olympics (the first year that women’s boxing was an Olympic sport). Four years later, she repeated that achievement at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics as the capstone on a 77-1 amateur record. Since then, she’d won 12 out of 12 professional fights and accumulated belts in three weight divisions. She entered the Marshall bout with the WBC WBA, and IBF 160-pound titles.

Claressa is also given to unrealistic statements, such as telling TMZ, “I spar with men. I drop men. I beat men up all the time. They may be stronger than me, but their boxing ability isn’t like mine. I think I can beat up Keith Thurman. I really do. GGG, he’s older now. I could give GGG a run for his money.”

To put that comment in context, Shields has scored one knockdown and two stoppages in six years as a pro.

Marshall, age 32, was also 12-and-0 in the professional ranks but with ten knockouts. She’d won the WBO 160-pound belt in 2020 and engendered considerable comment when she rendered Femke Hermans unconscious with a brutal left hook in round three of their April 2, 2022, encounter.

It was Marshall who dealt Shields the sole loss (amateur or pro) in Claressa’s sojourn through boxing – a 14-8 decision at the 2012 AIBA Women’s World Championships. Shields was 17 at the time; Marshall was 21. Later that year, Savannah lost in the first round of competition at the London Olympics to Marina Volnova of Kazakhstan (who Shields defeated in the second round). In 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Marshall lost in the second round of competition to Nouchka Fontijn of the Netherlands (who Shields defeated in the gold-medal bout).

There was some trash-talking at the July 5 kick-off press conference. Marshall told the assembled media that the fight was taking place in the UK “because Claressa doesn’t sell a ticket,” and added, “I’ve knocked out people you went ten rounds with. That’s all you need to know. I’m a better fighter. I’m not just going to beat you. I’m going to hurt you. See you on September 10, babe.”

“I don’t hate nobody,” Shields responded. “But I do have a huge dislike for her. My grandma told me not to use the word ‘hate,’ so I won’t use it.”

Leading up to the then-scheduled September 10 fight, Shields was the more loquacious of the two fighters:

*         “Her beating me in 2012 before the Olympics was the fluke of her career. I’ve never seen something like this in boxing before, someone who lives off of an amateur win for ten years. It’s like they’re trying to erase everything I’ve done in the past ten years because I have been dominant in boxing for a decade, since I was seventeen. I won the Olympics. I won it again. I turned pro. I won titles. And it’s like, ‘Wow! It’s still not enough for you guys.'”

*         “If her game plan is to try and stand there in the middle of the ring and to out-bang me, she going to be sleeping. If her game plan is to be smart and try to box, move, she’ll last a bit longer. If it has to be a war, it’s going to be a war that I win. If it’s going to be a boxing match, I’m going to win the boxing match. And if it has to be both, I’m prepared to do it all. I live for moments like this.”

*         “To all of you that are doubting me, just make sure you apologize after the fight. Say, ‘We were wrong. You’re the best and we respect you,’ and that you respect my hard work and my accomplishments.”

Meanwhile, Marshall had her own take on the impending battle, saying, “I’m going to take her into deep water and drown her in the Thames.”

Then everything changed. On September 8, Queen Elizabeth died, ushering in a period of unprecedented national mourning. Out of respect for the Royal Family, the British Boxing Board of Control ruled that the fight card would be postponed.

“I’m sad about the fight being postponed,” Shields acknowledged. “But I’m a big girl and I understand that the Queen of the country passing has an entire country mourning. Whatever the decision, I’m respectful of it.”

Marshall seemed to take the postponement harder, telling Sky Sports that she went to Buckingham Palace with a sister and a friend to pay respects before adding, “I had a week off, and I needed it. I felt emotionally drained. I didn’t get out of bed for a couple of days after. I was trying to be positive but I was disappointed. I was upset, the ‘it always happens to me’ kind of vibe.”

In due course, the card was rescheduled for October 15. Ten days before the bout, the WBC announced that it had created yet another belt to add to the many baubles that it bestows on fighters; this one a specially-crafted “Elizabethan Belt” (purple, not green) that would be given to the winner of Shields-Marshall.

When fight week arrived, some of the buzz that swirled around the original September 10 date had dissipated. But anticipation was still high.

Peter Fury (who trains Marshall) said of Shields, “She’s got fast hands, she’s good defensively, and she’s good with counters. She puts flurries together well. With her feints, she makes fighters hesitant. Before they know it, she’s in range and teeing off on them with her quick hands.”

And of his own charge, Fury noted, “She’s got the ability to switch people’s lights out, and that’s a different sort of power than most.”

Meanwhile, Shields remained the more quotable of the two fighters, offering a range of thoughts:

*         “I’m not worried about Savannah Marshall. Nobody was ever running from her. Nobody was ever scared to come over here and fight her. We said, ‘Let’s do it. And you better punch as hard as you say you can. Because if you don’t have any punching power, it’s going to be a hard night for you.'”

*         “Of course, we’ve got to talk about her punching power. She’s going to try to come out there and land a big shot. That’s really all I see. But it’s a boxing match. I may get hit in there. But if she thinks she won’t get hit, then she’s mistaken. If she thinks she is a better boxer than me, she’s mistaken. I’m going to adapt and do whatever I have to do to win and make the fight easy. She can’t outbox me. She’s not very skilled.”

*         “I really feel in my spirit that I am going to knock Savannah Marshall out. This is going to be my statement fight. She’s not going to be able to handle my shots.”

This was the first time that a women’s bout had headlined a fight card at the O2 Arena. In keeping with that theme, all eleven bouts on the bill showcased women fighters. The first nine were expected to be relatively easy outings for promoter favorites. Shields-Marshall and Mayer-Baumgardner were another matter.

Mayer, age 32, came into her fight with a 17-0 (5 KOs) ring record. She’d won the WBO and IBF 130-pound belts by decision over Ewa Brodnicka (in 2020) and Maiya Hamadouche (2021) and defended them successfully by decision over Jennifer Han earlier this year.

Baumgardner, age 28, (12-1, 7 KOs) annexed the WBC 130-pound belt with a surprise knockout of Terri Harper last year.

Mayer was a 5-to-2 betting favorite. The women “had to be separated” during a fight-week interview on Sky Sports, again at the final pre-fight press conference, and once more at a post-weigh-in staredown, proving that women fighters can act as silly as the men.

When fight night arrived, the hostilities between them were more muted. Baumgardner prevailed on a 96-95, 96-95, 93-97 split-decision, and ESPN expert commentator Tim Bradley opined, “The next time they do it, I want to see more action.”

Shields-Marshall was far more fan-friendly and a classic confrontation between boxer and puncher.

The women had three common opponents – Sydney LeBlanc, Hannah Rankin, and Femke Hermans. Shields outpointed all three without losing a round on any of the judges’ scorecards. Marshall (in her pro debut) won every round against LeBlanc, stopped Rankin in seven rounds and, as previously noted, knocked Hermans unconscious.

The stakes were high. Whoever won would be elevated to legitimate stardom. Shields was a slight betting favorite. An enthusiastic sold-out crowd of 20,000 witnessed the action.

Marshall knows how to fight. Once the bell for round one sounded, she kept coming forward, firing punches for the entire night. Shields was respectful of Marshall’s power but understood that the only way she could keep Savannah off was to hurt her. Claressa didn’t run. She fired back and often fired first.

A ten-round firefight followed.

Shields was the better boxer, faster, and pulled the trigger more quickly than Marshall did. She was also the more accurate puncher.

Marshall showed more boxing skills than she had in previous fights. Her most effective blows were hooks to the body. And she wasn’t above using her forearms, shoulders, and elbows on the far side of the rules when she and Shields were fighting inside. Claressa didn’t complain. She just fired back.

The women were equally tough.

It was an action fight from beginning to end. Shields showed more fire and firepower than she had in previous outings. She had to in order to win. Each woman gave it everything she had. Both women dug deep in the second half of the fight.

The judges 97-93, 97-93, 94-94 verdict in Shields’s favor was on the mark.

Boxing in the United Kingdom needed a boost in the wake of the ongoing Conor Benn performance-enhancing-drug scandal. Shields and Marshall delivered it.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – In the Inner Sanctum: Behind the Scenes at Big Fights – was just published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, he was selected for boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

Thomas Hauser is the author of 52 books. In 2005, he was honored by the Boxing Writers Association of America, which bestowed the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism upon him. He was the first Internet writer ever to receive that award. In 2019, Hauser was chosen for boxing's highest honor: induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Lennox Lewis has observed, “A hundred years from now, if people want to learn about boxing in this era, they’ll read Thomas Hauser.”

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Anderson Cruises by Vapid Merhy and Ajagba edges Vianello in Texas

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Jared Anderson returned to the ring tonight on a Top Rank card in Corpus Christi, Texas. Touted as the next big thing in the heavyweight division, Anderson (17-0, 15 KOs) hardly broke a sweat while cruising past Ryad Merhy in a bout with very little action, much to the disgruntlement of the crowd which started booing as early as the second round. The fault was all Merhy as he was reluctant to let his hands go. Somehow, he won a round on the scorecard of judge David Sutherland who likely fell asleep for a round for which he could be forgiven.

Merhy, born in the Ivory Coast but a resident of Brussels, Belgium, was 32-2 (26 KOs) heading in after fighting most of his career as a cruiserweight. He gave up six inches in height to Anderson who was content to peck away when it became obvious to him that little would be coming back his way.

Anderson may face a more daunting adversary on Monday when he has a court date in Romulus, Michigan, to answer charges related to an incident in February where he drove his Dodge Challenger at a high rate speed, baiting the police into a merry chase. (Weirdly, Anderson entered the ring tonight wearing the sort of helmet that one associates with a race car driver.)

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, a battle between six-foot-six former Olympians, Italy’s Guido Vianello started and finished strong, but Efe Ajagba had the best of it in the middle rounds and prevailed on a split decision. Two of the judges favored Ajagba by 96-94 scores with the dissenter favoring the Italian from Rome by the same margin.

Vianello had the best round of the fight. He staggered Ajagba with a combination in round two. At the end of the round, a befuddled Ajagba returned to the wrong corner and it appeared that an upset was brewing. But the Nigerian, who trains in Las Vegas under Kay Koroma, got back into the fight with a more varied offensive attack and better head movement. In winning, he improved his ledger to 20-1 (14). Vianello, who sparred extensively with Daniel Dubois in London in preparation for this fight, declined to 12-2-1 in what was likely his final outing under the Top Rank banner.

Other Bouts of Note

In the opening bout on the main ESPN platform, 35-year-old super featherweight Robson Conceicao, a gold medalist for Brazil in the 2016 Rio Olympics, stepped down in class after fighting Emanuel Navarrete tooth-and-nail to a draw in his previous bout and scored a seventh-round stoppage of Jose Ivan Guardado who was a cooked goose after slumping to the canvas after taking a wicked shot to the liver. Guardado made it to his feet, but the end was imminent and the referee waived it off at the 2:27 mark.

Conceicao improved to 18-1 (9 KOs). It was the U.S. debut for Guardado (15-2-1), a boxer from Ensenada, Mexico who had done most of his fighting up the road in Tijuana.

Ruben Villa, the pride of Salinas, California, improved to 22-1 (7) and moved one step closer to a match with WBC featherweight champion Rey Vargas with a unanimous 10-round decision over Tijuana’s Cristian Cruz (22-7-1). The judges had it 97-93 and 98-92 twice.

Cruz, the son of former IBF world featherweight title-holder Cristobal Cruz, was better than his record. He entered the bout on a 21-1-1 run after losing five of his first seven pro fights.

Cleveland southpaw Abdullah Mason, who turned 20 earlier this month, continued his fast ascent up the lightweight ladder with a fourth-round stoppage of Ronal Ron.

Mason (13-0, 11 KOs) put Ron on the canvas in the opening round with a short left hook. He scored a second knockdown with a shot to the liver. A flurry of punches, a diverse array, forced the stoppage at the 1:02 mark of round four. A 25-year-old SoCal-based Venezuelan, the spunky but out-gunned Ron declined to 14-6.

Charly Suarez, a 35-year-old former Olympian from the Philippines, ranked #5 at junior lightweight by the IBF, advanced to 17-0 (9) with a unanimous 8-round decision over SoCal’s Louie Coria (5-7).

This was a tactical fight. In the final round, Coria, subbing for 19-0 Henry Lebron, caught the Filipino off-balance and knocked him into the ropes which held him up. It was scored a knockdown, but came too little, too late for Coria who lost by scores of 76-75 and 77-74 twice.

Suarez, whose signature win was a 12th-round stoppage of the previously undefeated Aussie Paul Fleming in Sydney, may be headed to a rematch with Robson Conceicao. They fought as amateurs in 2016 in Kazakhstan and Suarez lost a narrow 6-round decision.

Photo credit: Mikey Willams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Ellie Scotney and Rhiannon Dixon Win World Title Fights in Manchester

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England’s Ellie Scotney started slowly against the long reach of France’s Segolene Lefebvre but used rough tactics and a full-steam ahead approach to unify the super bantamweight division by unanimous decision on Saturday.

“There’s a lot more I didn’t show,” said an excited Scotney (pictured on the left).

IBF titlist Scotney (9-0) added the WBO title by nullifying Lefebvre’s (18-1) reach and dominating the inside with a two-fisted attack in front of an excited crowd in Manchester, England.

For the first two rounds Lefebvre used her long reach and smooth fluid attack to keep Scotney at the end of her punches. Then the fight turned when the British fighter bulled her way inside with body shots and forced the French fighter into the ropes.

Aggressiveness by Scotney turned the fight in her favor. But Lefebvre remained active and countered with overhand rights throughout the match.

Body shots by Scotney continued to pummel the French champion’s abdomen but she remained steadfast in her counter-attacks. Combinations landed for Lefebvre and a counter overhand right scored to keep her in the contest in the fifth round.

Scotney increased the intensity of her attack in the sixth and seventh rounds. In perhaps her best round Scotney was almost perfect in scoring while not getting hit with anything from the French fighter.

Maybe the success of the previous round caused Scotney to pause. It allowed Lefebvre to rally behind some solid shots in a slow round and gave the French fighter an opening. Maybe.

The British fighter opened up more savagely after taking two Lefevbre rights to open the ninth. Scotney attacked with bruising more emphatic blows despite getting hit. Though both fired blows Scotney’s were more powerful.

Both champions opened-up the 10th and final round with punches flying. Once again Scotney’s blows had more power behind them though the French fighter scored too, and though her face looked less bruised than Scotney’s the pure force of Scotney’s attacks was more impressive.

All three judges saw Scotney the winner 97-93, 96-94 and a ridiculous 99-91. The London-based fighter now has the IBF and WBO super bantamweight titles.

Promoter Eddie Hearn said a possible showdown with WBC titlist Erika Cruz looms large possibly in the summer.

“Great performance. Great punch output,” said Hearn of Scotney’s performance.

Dixon Wins WBO Title

British southpaw Rhiannon Dixon (10-0) out-fought Argentina’s Karen Carabajal (22-2) over 10 rounds and won a very competitive unanimous decision to win the vacant WBO lightweight title. It was one of the titles vacated by Katie Taylor who is now the undisputed super lightweight world champion.

An aggressive Dixon dominated the first three rounds including a knockdown in the third round with a perfect left-hand counter that dropped Carabajal. The Argentine got up and rallied in the round.

Carabajal, whose only loss was against Katie Taylor, slowly began figuring out Dixon’s attacks and each round got more competitive. The Argentine fighter used counter rights to find a hole in Dixon’s defense to probably win the round in the sixth.

The final three rounds saw both fighters engage evenly with Carabajal scoring on counters and Dixon attacking the body successfully.

After 10 rounds all three judges saw it in Dixon’s favor 98-91, 97-92, 96-93 who now wields the WBO lightweight world title.

“It’s difficult to find words,” said Dixon after winning the title.

Hometown Fighter Wins

Manchester’s Zelfa Barrett (31-2, 17 KOs) battled back and forth with Jordan Gill (28-3-1, 9 KO-s) and finally ended the super featherweight fight with two knockdowns via lefts to the body in the 10th round of a scheduled 12-round match for a regional title.

The smooth moving Barrett found the busier Gill more complex than expected and for the first nine rounds was fighting a 50/50 fight against the fellow British fighter from the small town of Chatteris north of London.

In the 10th round after multiple shots on the body of Gill, a left hook to the ribs collapsed the Chatteris fighter to the floor. He willed himself up and soon after was floored again but this time by a left to the solar plexus. Again he continued but was belted around until the referee stopped the onslaught by Barrett at 2:44 of the 10th.

“A tough, tough fighter,” said Barrett about Gill. “I had to work hard.”

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O.J. Simpson the Boxer: A Heartwarming Tale for the Whole Family

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O.J. Simpson passed away on Wednesday, April 10, at age 76 in Las Vegas where he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. For millions of Americans, news of his passing unloosed a flood of memories.

The O.J. Simpson double murder trial lasted 37 weeks. CNN and two other fledgling cable networks provided gavel-to-gavel coverage. On Oct. 3, 1995, the day that the jury rendered its verdict, CBS, NBC, ABC, and ESPN suspended regular programming to cover the trial. Worldwide, more than 100 million people were reportedly glued to their TV or radio.

O.J.’s life can be neatly compartmentalized into two halves. The dividing line is June 12, 1994. On that date, Simpson’s estranged wife, the former Nicole Brown, and her friend Ronald Goldman were found stabbed to death in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood at the home that Nicole shared with their two children.

Before then, O.J. was famous. After then, he was infamous.

Simpson first came to the fore on the gridiron. In 1968, his final season at the University of Southern California, he was so dynamic that he won the Heisman Trophy in a landslide, out-distancing Purdue’s Leroy Keyes by 1,750 votes. This was the widest margin to that point between a Heisman winner and runner-up and a milestone that stood for 51 years until surpassed by LSU quarterback Joe Burrows in 2019.

In the NFL, among his many achievements, he became the first and only NFL running back to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in a 14-game season, a record that will never be broken.

But one can’t appreciate the depth of O.J.s celebrityhood by citing statistics. He transcended his sport like few athletes before or since. Owing in large part to his commercials for the Hertz rental car chain, he became one of America’s most recognizable people.

O.J. Simpson was raised by a single mother in a government housing project in the gritty Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. Unlike many of his boyhood peers, he was never quick to raise his fists. Weirdly, he once said that running away from fights proved useful to him when he took up football. It helped his stamina.

Although he never boxed in real life, O.J. portrayed a boxer in a made-for-TV movie. Titled “Goldie and the Boxer,” it aired on NBC on Sunday, Dec. 29, 1979, two weeks after O.J. played in his last NFL game. Co-produced by Simpson’s own production company, it starred O.J. opposite precocious Melissa Michaelson who played the 10-year-old Goldie.

In promos, the movie was tagged as a heartwarming tale for kids and their parents. Associated Press writer John Egan described it as “a cross between the Shirley Temple classic ‘Little Miss Marker’ and a low-budget ‘Rocky.’”

Here’s a synopsis, compliments of New York Times TV critic John J. O’Connor:

“The year is 1946, and Joe Gallagher is returning to Louisiana as an army veteran. He is quickly ripped off by a succession of thugs and finds himself broke and battered in Pennsylvania where he is befriended by a young Goldie. Her father is a boxer and Joe joins the training camp as a sparring partner. When the father dies, Joe takes his place on the fight circuit and Goldie becomes his manager…”

The consensus of the pundits was that O.J. the actor was very much a work in progress, but that he had great potential. And the movie, despite its hokey plot, attracted so many viewers that NBC wanted to turn it into a series.

O.J. had too much on his plate to commit to doing a regular series. Among other things, he had signed on to become part of NBC’s main stable of reporters at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, a gig that evaporated when the U.S. under President Jimmy Carter joined 64 other nations in boycotting the Games as a protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However, the movie did spawn a sequel, “Goldie and the Boxer Go To Hollywood,” with Simpson and Michaelson reprising their roles.

I never met O.J. Simpson, but have a vivid memory of finding myself walking behind him into the outdoor boxing arena at Caesars Palace. If memory serves, this was the Hagler-Hearns fight of 1985, in which case the lady on his arm would have been Nicole as they were married earlier that year. She was quite a dish in that tight-fitting pantsuit and I remember thinking to myself, “of all the trophies this dude has won, here is the best trophy of them all.” (Forgive me.)

Simpson had cameo roles in several movies before leaving USC. When he finally turned his back on football, the world was his oyster. O.J., wrote Barry Lorge in the Washington Post, was “bright, affable, charming, articulate and credible, a public relation man’s dream-come true.”

No one would have foreseen the swerve his life would take.

When the jury, after only four hours of deliberation, returned a verdict of “not guilty,” there was cheering in some corners of America. The overwhelming consensus of the white population, however, was that the verdict was an abomination, a gross miscarriage of justice.

We’ll leave it at that.

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