Claressa Shields to face Hanna Gabriels in bold middleweight takeover bid

Bryan Armen Graham
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">Claressa Shields will look to win a world title in a second weight division on 22 June in Detroit.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images</span>
Claressa Shields will look to win a world title in a second weight division on 22 June in Detroit. Photograph: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Claressa Shields, the only American boxer to win multiple Olympic gold medals, will move down in weight in her bid to move up boxing’s pound-for-pound list.

Shields, the unified world champion at 168lbs, will meet Costa Rica’s Hanna Gabriels, the unified champion at 154lbs, in a summit meeting at 160lbs for the vacant IBF and WBA middleweight titles at Detroit’s Masonic Temple on 22 June, promoter Dmitriy Salita announced on Tuesday.

The fight will be broadcast in the United States on Showtime, the network on which Shields became the first woman to headline a boxing card on premium cable last year.

“I love the fight against Hanna Gabriels: champion versus champion, exactly the kind of fight that I want every time to take women’s boxing to new heights,” Shields said in a release. “I’ve said one of my goals is to win world championships in three weight divisions. I’m proud to be super middleweight champion, and on June 22 I will add the middleweight championship to my accomplishments.”

Germany’s Christina Hammer, the WBC and WBO middleweight champion, will defend her titles against former beltholder Tori Nelson on the undercard, marking a banner night for women’s boxing.

Should Shields and Hammer both win, Showtime confirmed on Tuesday the pair will face off for the undisputed middleweight championship in a four-belt title fight in the fall.

Shields (5-0, 2 KOs), who made her professional debut less than three months after winning her second Olympic gold in Rio, became a world champion in her fourth professional outing with a fifth-round stoppage of Nikki Adler in August, capturing the WBC and IBF super middleweight straps. She’s made one defense since then, a lopsided points win over Nelson in January.

Gabriels (18-1-1, 11 KOs), a 35-year-old from Alajuelawho has held titles at welterweight and junior welterweight, will be fighting at middleweight for the first time since making her pro debut at 161lbs in 2007. She’s won five straight bouts after suffering her lone career defeat to Oxandia Castillo of the Dominican Republic in 2013, including a unanimous-decision reversal over Castillo in October.

“This will be a great battle of two world champions, a great night for my country, and a great fight for women’s boxing,” Gabriels said. “I only know one thing: the woman in front of me will lose.”

Shields, who has designs on elevating women’s boxing the way Ronda Rousey propelled women’s MMA from sideshow to headline attraction, believes a unification fight with Hammer can be the first step toward that end.

“I want to unify all the middleweight belts against Hammer,” she said. “I’ve never been so motivated. This will be a great year for women’s boxing. It’s our time!”

The 23-year-old from Flint, Michigan – a winner in 77 of her 78 amateur bouts – overcame a transient childhood, poverty and sexual abuse to become the first ever US boxer, male or female, to win consecutive gold medals at the Olympics with scintillating victories in London, aged 17, and Rio, where she earned the Val Barker Trophy as the top overall female fighter in the tournament, an honor not won by an American since Roy Jones Jr at Seoul 1988.

She has enlisted veteran trainer John David Jackson for her corner after splitting with longtime coach Jason Crutchfield, who was unable to relocate to Florida where Shields wants to train full-time. Jackson, a former two-division champion, is best known for his work with former unified light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev.

Shields’ lone career defeat in either the amateur or professional ranks came on points at the 2012 world championships against Great Britain’s Savannah Marshall, who went on to win the title.

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