By: Oliver McManus
Claressa Shields vs Christina Hammer, the biggest fight in the history of women’s boxing without a shadow of a doubt. No pressure, then. The winner would become only the second female undisputed champion of the world and whilst Shields was the betting favourite, this was a genuine pick’em going into fight night.
Hammer, the WBO middleweight champion, stepped into the ring with a beaming smile on her face in stark contrast to the dead-pan nonchalance, borderline disgust, of Shields. The American, double Olympic champion, was in supreme confidence of adding a fourth governing body’s belt to her collection.
Her German counterpart, however, started off the liverlier fighter. Characteristically fighting tall, Hammer was using her three inch height advantage well and making her jab do the talking. Shields flailed her punches inwards for the opening round, attempting to cut into the body of Hammer but often catching the German on her arms.
Photo Credit: Showtime Boxing Twitter Account
The second round saw Shields looking to start fast and shell-shock Hammer but the 28 year old, a professional for 10 years, remained confident in her gameplan. Rocking on the balls of her feet and working sideways across the ring, Hammer had settled into a rhythm reminiscent of her previous contests.
Shields landed a couple of eye-catching shots, when Hammer was on the move, to signal her aggressive shot selection. A particularly pleasing overhand right, thrown when the American was almost tucked up into the armpit of Hammer, prompted a momentary clinch of recognition. The contest was being fought a good pace, producing an enjoyable fight, and Shields was upping her punch output with each passing round.
Hammer continued with her constant circling of the ring but was struggling to settle into a similar rhythm with the punches, and the pre-fight favourite was able to pick her off with the busier work. Such is the nature of two minute rounds that a well-placed flurry of shots could be enough to claim you a quiet round.
Interestingly as the fight progressed it was the movement of Shields that started to come to the fore, evading the downwards punches of Hammer with a casual duck-and-weave motion. It was smooth to watch the first time, even more glorious in slow-motion. More importantly it showed the different dimensions to the Flint based boxer; Hammer, as good a fighter as she is, was unable to adapt to the varying tactics coming her way.
Having began as the instigator, Hammer quickly struggled to replicate any of that initial impact as she ran firmly into a brick wall. Shields was dominant, it has to be said, and looked superfluous in every aspect. On the front foot she was capable of forcing the pace of the contest, landing with aggression. On the backfoot she was able to pick Hammer off with the jab and was defensively astute, too.
After several rounds of sheer frustration, the German eventually returned to her form from the first round. That trademark sideways movement appeared lost in certain rounds and it was no coincidence that, when she reverted to her light and bouncy footwork, she began to enjoy more success.
That success was immediately followed up with a huge round for Shields who simply went at it for the duration of the eighth round, knocking the gum shield of Hammer out and rallying relentlessly with an endless barrage of power punches that made her, 24 fight opponent, looked like a novice. Chilling accuracy from Shields, simply chilling.
The final two rounds were yet another dose of dominance coming from the home corner with cruise-control firmly engaged. There were two world champions in that ring but you would never have guessed given the way in which Shields stamped her authority over the contest.
98-92, 98-92, 98-92, to become the undisputed middleweight champion of the world.
Earlier in the night Otto Wallin opened up the televised broadcast from Atlantic City, a little after 9pm local time, with the Swedish southpaw looking to go 21-0 with a first win on American soil. Nick Kisner, a career cruiserweight, was in the opposite corner and was on a two-fight win streak since losing to, WBA International champion, Ryad Merhy.
Absent from the ring for 357 days, Ottomatic was looking to ease into life in the United States with an impressive victory. Ranked 5th by the WBA and IBF, Wallin had previously been mandatory challenger for the EBU belt before opting to pursue his options Stateside. When the fight began his size advantage was clear to see – some six and half inches the taller boxer.
The 28 year old immediately took to the centre of the ring, using the sheer scale of his legs to stand at distance and tower over Kisner. The American was caught within the first ninety seconds, what by was not instantly obvious, with a cut emerging to the side of the left eye. Blood smeared the cheek of Kisner, in rather un-warrior-like fashion, as he complained he was unable to see. The doctor was called with the referee, David Franciosi, repeatedly asking “can you see or not”.
Altogether the scenes were rather farcical with Kisner stating “I can see out of one eye”, prompting Franciosi to call a halt to the contest. Replays showed an obvious headbut – unintentional mind – and the bout went down as a swift no-decision. A rather anti-climatic debut for the talented Swede.
The second heavyweight of the broadcast was a scheduled ten rounder between Jermaine Franklin and Rydell Booker. Michigan’s Franklin had been hitting his media duties hard in the build up to this contest, declaring himself as “already the best heavyweight” all the while accompanied by montages of him flipping tyres and smashing hammers.
Franklin weighed in a tangerine over 245lbs, the heaviest he’s been in since May 2016, half a stone more than his counterpart but stood, officially, two inches the smaller man. Booker, meanwhile, arrived on a three fight win streak since resuming his professional career last year following a lengthy hiatus, largely spent in prison.
In carrying that excess weight, 18lbs more than his last fight, Franklin looked a little out of shape but snapped out his jab in sprightly fashion from the off. As he threw the jab he would shuffle his whole body into the punch, prompting Booker to sit firmly on the back foot. Constantly chipping away territorially, Franklin was landing the better of the punches but Booker had decent speed of movement in response.
Despite the punching pressure coming from Franklin it was Booker who seemed to be keeping the pace of the contest within his comfort zone – a steady, cooled down tempo. Franklin was looking for flashy shots to match his brash pre-fight braggadocio. Twisting his body into each shot, in a manner not too dissimilar to Samba dancing, the 25 year old was trying to look more impressive than the sum of his shots.
Thoughts of what might have been for Booker seemed to crop up throughout the contest as he made Franklin look, distinctly, average. The older fighter was looking composed in the face of wild, swinging shots and, despite possible assumptions, he simply was not tiring. The final couple rounds of the fight saw Booker having his best spells, some sluggish chipping uppercuts catching Franklin on the chin before the 38 year old followed up with classy combinations.
A fight that never managed to ignite into anything spectacular but rather produced frustrating viewing. Franklin landed with more frequency and consistency, catching Booker flush on a fair few occasions. It was learning fight, as the old adage goes, but, more frankly, it just wasn’t good enough. 99-91, 98-92, 98-92, in favour of Jermaine Franklin.
The story of the night belongs firmly to Claressa Shields who delivered on her promise of dominance. For the first time in a long time, as well, she did it in an entertaining manner. Her last few performances have been a relatively damp but this event, this occasion, seemed to bring out the superstar within her.
She became undisputed middleweight champion of the world with a frightening intensity. The greatest female fighter of all time? I can’t see anyone that comes close. Worryingly, too, she’s only just getting started.