By Eric Lunger
Claressa Shields (4-0, 2 KOs), America’s only two-time Olympic boxing gold medalist, exploded onto the women’s professional scene less than two years ago, picking up the WBC and IBF super middleweight world titles in her fourth professional bout. Tonight, she put those titles on the line against undefeated challenger Tori Nelson (17-0, 2 KOs) of Ashburn, Virginia. Nelson, 41, took an unorthodox road to boxing, picking up the sport at age 29 as a way to increase her fitness.
Youth versus age, energy versus experience, talent versus strategy — there were lots of ways to view this fight, but first the first question was: could Nelson compete with Shield’s skill level? It is a serious question because the Flint, Michigan, native appears to be a once-in-a-generation talent.
Photo Credit: ShoBox Twitter
The two fighters faced off in the main event on ShoBox: The New Generation, at the Turning Stone Resort and Casino in Verona, NY. Shields came out in the first with a tight, cautious attack, but the hand speed difference between the fighters was abundantly clear. In the second, Shields landed a number of heavy shots, but Nelson nodded her head, like “that was nothing,” but the blows had to be adding up. Nelson fought a smart third round, stepping inside Shields’ attack. In the fourth, Nelson got inside again, but Shields outfought her from off the ropes.
In the fifth, Shields opened with a textbook triple jab, followed by a classic one-two down the pipe. Shields continued to land big shots but Nelson showed herself as durable as she was unintimidated. The sixth was the first really lop-sided round, as Nelson slowed down and offered no offense at all. Tori Nelson fought hard in the seventh, still shaking her head when she got tagged, but no one wins rounds by just hanging on. The eighth was more of the same, and the ninth again saw Nelson hanging on and taking punishment. Shields won the final round convincingly, as she did all the others. That Nelson never went down was a testament to her durability, if nothing else. The judges saw it as a shut-out, 100-90 across the board for Claressa Shields.
In undercard action, Jessie Hernandez (10-1, 7 KOs) of Fort Worth, Texas, took on Ernesto Garcia III (9-2, 5 KOs) of Saginaw, Michigan, in a ten-round junior featherweight clash. Garcia was giving up almost 4 inches in height and 2 inches in reach to Hernandez, who was coming off a fifth round TKO win over previously undefeated Vladimir Tikhonov.
This was an action first round, both fighters coming forward, both willing to throw, but it was not sloppy. Hernandez switched to southpaw to start the second, but Garza got inside and landed a number of good combinations. The Michigan fighter scored a knock down with just seconds to go in the round, catching Hernandez inside with a short left hook. Fireworks started the third, with both men in the middle of the ring, exchanging power shots. But this was a much better round from Hernandez, who went back to orthodox and fought from the outside.
In the fourth, Hernandez went back to southpaw and went to work on Garza’s body. He landed one low blow, but otherwise the body assault seemed to be effective, as Garza’s work rate slowed markedly. The fifth was closer, but Hernandez landed the cleaner and more punishing shots. In the sixth, Garza seemed to regain some steam, but both men exchanged hard shots in the middle of the ring – at a pace that looked impossible to sustain. The seventh was a war, with Garza losing his mouthpiece for the second time, and the last thirty seconds again saw a flurry of activity from both boxers. In the eighth there was a drop in activity – it had to come at some point – but still lots of action in a very close round. The ninth went mostly Garza’s way, as Hernandez seemed to fade, or maybe he was taking a round off in preparation for the tenth. Garza began the final round dancing and moving, but the final minute was an incredible battle in the center of the. This was a tremendous fight by both men, and a difficult fight to score. The judges saw it 95-94, 93-95, 97-93, a split decision for Jesse Hernandez.
In the first televised bout, two undefeated prospects, Shohjahon Ergashev (11-0, 11 KOs) of Uzbekistan took on Sonny Fredrickson (18-0, 12 KOs) of Toledo, Ohio, in a scheduled eight-round junior welterweight clash. Ergashev, a five-foot-ten southpaw, currently trains in Brooklyn, NY, while the lanky six-foot-one Fredrickson was looking to run his KO streak to three. With a combined 80% knock out rate between the two men, this fight was not likely to go the distance.
Ergashev landed some heavy left hands early and late in the first round, with Fredrickson unable to match Ergashev’s speed and use of angles. The second round saw more effective boxing and power shots from the Uzbek, though he marred the round — in my view — with some unnecessary show-boating. The end came quickly, however, in the third, as Ergashev staggered Fredrickson with a clean left. The Toledo native tried to survive on rubber legs, but the punishment doled out by Ergashev compelled a stoppage at 1:58 of the round.