Claressa Shields’ CV is already littered with astronomical success. Gold at the London Olympics in 2012. Gold at the Rio Olympics in 2016. Gold at the 2014 and 2016 World Championships. Gold at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto. A WBC Silver champion by her third professional fight, and a unified world champion by her fourth. Even though the women’s ranks aren’t as deep as the men’s (yet), that is a mightily impressive return for just under six year’s worth of work.
She attempts to write the next chapter of an already stunning career this weekend by becoming a two-weight world champion at the Masonic Temple in Detroit, in her home state of Michigan. On the line are two more world titles, this time the vacant IBF and WBA middleweight straps. One wonders if such achievements will become meaningless for the 23-year-old if she continues to dominate in the way she has thus far.
However, standing in her way is a respectable veteran who is capable of providing a thorough examination of Shields, and potentially causing a surprise upset, so is deserving of Shields’ undivided attention. A former unified world champion herself, Hanna Gabriels is capable, durable, and possesses a punch that can not only swing matters in her favour but finish them altogether – her WBA and WBO super welterweight titles came via one of 11 knockouts in 18 wins, making her KO ratio one of the more impressive out of the active female fighters.
Although Gabriels didn’t have an amateur career, she is vastly experienced in the professional code. She became a world champion before Shields won her first Olympic gold medal, and a unified world champion with a 13-1-1 record by the time Shields was making her pro debut. She will come to win, and can certainly present problems for the upcoming star, who without doubt is facing her sternest test to date. The weight may also be a factor – Gabriels is coming up to middleweight and Shields, interestingly, is coming down from super-middle which, although not unheard of, certainly goes against the natural order of things, especially considering her Pan American gold was won at light heavyweight.
Nevertheless, the sensible money remains on the American. Younger, sharper and with an intelligent boxing brain, the rounds will likely accumulate quickly in her favour. Keep an eye on Shields’ power, too, which brought her 2 KOs in 5 wins at super-middle. Provided she has shed the necessary weight properly, this could be a more potent weapon in her new division. If she doesn’t manage to stop Gabriels late on, a comfortable decision victory is the most likely outcome, no trivial matter considering the evening’s opponent and the speed with which Shields is moving through the sport.