By: Sean Crose
Claressa Shields is twenty-five years old. She has earned Olympic glory and has won world titles in three weight divisions since turning professional in 2016. Her win last year against fellow top fighter Christina Hammer erased all doubt as to just how good the Flint, Michigan native, was. Shields not only defeated Hammer, she defeated her handily. There was no question that night in Atlantic City who the better fighter was. To date, Shields has yet to be defeated in the boxing ring. What’s more, the multi-titlist has recently signed to engage in MMA fights, an endeavor which Shields appears to take quite seriously.
The good news is that Shields represents the kind of willingness to prove oneself that one expects from a top athlete. The bad news is that in boxing, Shields is the exception to the rule. With top fighters being self assured to the point they feel they don’t need to challenge themselves, the story of Shields is unusual indeed. Fortunately for fight fans, she’s not alone. Canelo Alvarez, arguably the sport’s most popular star, has created a resume chock full of notable opponents. Floyd Mayweather. Miguel Cotto. Gennady Golovkin. Erislandy Lara. These are fighters one stands an exceptionally good chance of losing against. And, although he lost outright to Mayweather and slipped by on too close for comfort decisions against Golovkin and Lara, Canelo has proven to be an exceptional athlete himself.
Perhaps that’s because, win or lose, Canelo faces off against high level opposition. Many may have thought Golovkin had bested Canelo when the two first met a few years back, but there’s little doubt the red haired star learned from the experience. The same is perhaps doubly true if one thinks all the way back to the Mayweather fight in 2013. It’s arguable that the reason Canelo has been able to make the transition from a good, popular fighter to a great popular fighter is due to the man’s willingness to take a loss if he has to.
Yet boxing is a harsh sport with a sometimes sadistic fan base. Vasyl Lomachenko was recently hailed as perhaps the greatest fighter to ever slip on a pair of gloves. After losing to the brash and extremely talented Teofimo Lopez last autumn, however, not much has been said of the Ukrainian fighter. It’s as if Lomachenko was nothing but hype…and that fans are content to forever feel that way about a man who won a world title in only his third professional match and who caused fighter after fighter to quit on his stool. The same can be said for Kell Brook, the former welterweight titlist who was recently demolished by Terence Crawford. In his prime, the Englishmen jumped up to middleweight to challenge then champion Gennady Golovkin, then went back down to welterweight to defend his own title against none other than Errol Spence Junior. Brook lost both fights in brutal fashion after putting up one hell of a struggle. And what will Brook get after challenging himself to such a degree? Probably the reward of an obscure retirement.
If boxing fans are tired of seeing the best young fighters luxuriating in merely adequate resumes, they can do their part to change things by not shrugging off individuals like Brook who come up short. Boxing’s inertia problem is mainly the fault of fighters themselves. But it’s also partially the fault of promoters, networks, journalists…and the fans, too.