This Saturday in her home town of Flint, Michigan, Claressa Shields aims to become a three weight world champion in only her 10th professional bout, two quicker than Vasyl Lomachenko achieved the same feat. She faces Croatia’s Ivana Habazin, a former world champion looking to win in a third weight class herself.
Shields has been outspoken about female fighters getting the same pay as their male counterparts and I for one agree that they should be able to earn the same- they put their health on the line just like the men so why shouldn’t they get equal pay? Fair’s fair, right?
But there’s a big hurdle in the way of equal pay and it’s not the obvious ones people often go straight to.
Yes the female code only fight two minute rounds and yes they only fight for 10 rounds for a championship bout but these aren’t the reason they won’t get equal pay (in my opinion). It’s all about what money the promoters make, they won’t care if it is 5 x 1 minute rounds, if it sells, the fighters earn more. Just look at the KSI vs Logan Paul 2 debacle, essentially a white collar bout headlining a paid subscription (DAZN) show. That is not about the quality of the fight, it’s about how much the show runners make.
Against Habazin, a two weight world champion herself who is also hoping to become a three weight world champion, this should be a superfight. But the fight hasn’t caught the imagination because there’s been no fireworks, no fanfare about both going for their own piece of history. Two two weight world champions fighting for a world title in their third weight class should be a big deal but it’s been a run of the mill build up – even Shields has been quiet compared to her normal self.
What female boxing needs is rivalries. Claressa claims to be the “GWOAT” (greatest woman of all time) and she may well be, though I’m sure Cecilia Braekhus and Laila Ali might argue against that. What made Muhammad Ali so appealing to the masses wasn’t the fact he was the greatest, sure it helped, but it was the rivalries and foes he faced that achieved that. And it was those rivalries and foes that propelled boxing into the stratosphere and eventually led to the Joshuas, the Mayweathers and the De La Hoyas making millions in their fights.
Henry Cooper was a legend, but never a rich man; Ali paved the road to millions for fighters, Mayweather arguably the way to billions.
Shields needs a rival, someone who can be built up and she can have verbal sparring with until they meet in the ring (again). You only have to look for that fighter down the card on Saturday night.
Rankin and Shields have fought before when Shields defended her WBA and IBF Middleweight World Titles as well as the vacant WBC World Title being on the line. Shields won clearly that night as was expected by all but those in team Rankin, but what Hannah did was get under Shields skin like no other opponent has done. They had been back and forth on social media for a while before their fight was announced and their face-offs in the build up were spicy to say the least.
Mutual respect has surfaced since and both have been sparring each other in the build up to this weekend’s fights, but we know from history that these two “work well” together. And as Dillian Whyte and Dereck Chisora showed, mural respect can only last until a rematch is announced and then it all goes out the window (again).
Up against Erin Toughill this is Rankin’s first fight under Salita Promotions and it marks the beginning of her and Shields being promotional stablemates. In theory, this makes it easy for Salita Promotions to build their eventual rematch by having them appear on the same fight cards and do fight tours together. If they both become unified champions at Super Welterweight; Rankin already holds the IBO World Title and Shields is fighting for the vacant WBO and WBC straps on Saturday night. A rematch could be for the undisputed title.
To sum it up, female fighters do deserve equal pay- they have the skill, the guts and the entertaining fights. But it won’t happen until they get rivalries that capture the public’s imagination. Let’s hope Shields and Rankin’s simmering rivalry can bring that imagination to life.