Interview: Claressa Shields Spoke Her Historic Success Into Existence

Claressa Shields made boxing history on Friday night (January 10) at the Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Shields moved down in weight and dominated Ivana Habazin to win a pair of vacant junior middleweight world title belts in the main event of a Showtime tripleheader.

She became the fastest fighter male or female to be a three-division world champion.  

If you know anything about Shields, she believes this is her destiny. She speaks things into existence, and while early on people could say it was just talk, what she predicted is manifesting itself. 

Shields is from Flint, Michigan, a city that has known its share of extremely desperate times. 

But don’t call Flint or its residents hopeless around Shields. 

RELATED: #BlackGirlMagic: Black Women Had A History Making Year In Sports

“Flint is not a hopeless city and I mean that,” she told BET on Tuesday (January 7) at the Hotel Plaza Athénée on New York City’s east side. “I go home all the time, and there’s nothing but strong, resilient people.”

Shields is one of those strong, and resilient, people; she embodies the city. 

Bullied and sexually abused as a child, her mother struggled with alcohol, her family dealt with financial hardships, and she often had to take care of her younger brothers and sisters.

Understandably Shields had a lot of anger and would get into fights at school. Boxing was a way for her to channel the anger and hurt from those lived traumas. 

She took to the sport immediately, winning gold medals in the women’s middleweight division at the 2012 (she was 17) and 2016 Olympics, making her the first American boxer—female or male—to win consecutive Olympic medals. 

Shields turned professional after the 2016 Olympics, won all nine of her fights and all the available titles across the middleweight and super middleweight divisions. 

She sat down with BET for a candid conversation on who she is, and why she believes she is the “Greatest Woman Of All Time” (GWOAT).

BET: What would the 24 year-old Claressa Shields tell 16-year-old Claressa about what to expect?

Claressa Shields: Honestly, I’d say, ‘Girl, keep doing your thing! People are going to try to change you. People are going to try to make you different. But the only way you’re going to change the sport of women’s boxing is if you be you. Truly.’

When I was 16, coming up through now at 24, it was so much I thought I had to change about myself. Especially after I won the Olympics. ‘How should I wear my hair?’ Wearing dresses, wearing heels, just putting myself through all this different kind of pain I didn’t want to go through. It was a lot. I went through so many different changes, just trying to figure out who I was and letting people talk to me about who I should be, and how I shouldn’t be. 

There was a point in time where I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to stop talking trash. I’m gonna be the world champion that Laila Ali was or the other girls were.’ I was like, if I do that, I’m not being authentic, and they didn’t bring women’s boxing where I want it to go. Once I won the 2016 Olympics and my first couple pro fights, Andre Ward (retired former pro boxer) told me, ‘Sis, I know you’re going through a lot.’ Because he probably saw on social media everyone coming at me, trying to make me change and be different. He said, ‘If that’s who you are, be you.’  When he told me that, I knew it was go time. 

BET: Why are you the greatest female boxer of all time?

Claressa Shields: Because I’ve done what no other woman has done. That’s two Olympic gold medals in boxing. The only American [male or female] in history. I am about to be a three-time division world champion, faster than any boxer in history. Faster than [Vasyl] Lomachenko, who did it in 12 fights. I’m going to do it in 10. I am an undisputed world champion in nine fights. I dethroned a champion who was 24-0 with 11 KOs [Christina Hammer of Germany] and I beat her down. Everything adds up. 

BET: Do you believe in appropriate fear? A healthy respect for your opponents?

Claressa Shields: I have a healthy respect. The fact that I get ready for each opponent shows my respect. If I was to not train and just show up to a fight and say, ‘Yeah I’m going to win,’ that would be one thing. I train twice a day, four times a week. I go super hard in the gym and that’s my level of respect. That’s why I feel like no woman can beat me. 

A woman can beat me the day I stop working hard. I work so hard in the gym, it would be stupid of me to doubt myself. For me, I know that I’m unbeatable. You can put me in there with whoever. You give me six to eight weeks to get ready, and I’m going to get ready and find a way to win. These other girls, skill-wise? No boxer in history has ever seen anything like me. 

BET: You’re a role model for so many young women of color, what do you want them to take from your story?

Claressa Shields: I want these young girls to be unapologetically them. Be whoever you are, and be the kind of woman you want to be. I feel like in this world we have put a limitation on what a strong Black woman is. We pick certain women to hold that standard. It’s like, no. I’m a strong Black woman, and I’m also beautiful, and I have muscles. I feel like they have picked the soft-spoken Black girl who has to wear her hair a certain way in order to be accepted. 

There are so many different kinds of strong, beautiful Black women, and all of us are equally important to the world. Letting Black girls, and women in general, know, some of y’all may not be as loud as me, and that’s OK. Just whatever you choose to do, you do it your best. Don’t let anybody tell you that you’re not good.

BET: Who are your five favorite fighters of all time? 

Claressa Shields: The grit and charisma of Muhammad Ali. Sugar Ray Robinson was one of the hardest and fastest hitting guys ever, and he had a lot of heart. Joe Louis, perfect stance and perfect punches. There is no fighter more perfect than Joe Louis. You cannot dislike Deontay Wilder if you’re a fighter. He knocks people out. If it’s not Wilder, it’s Mike Tyson. Those are both at number four. I love those guys. Floyd Mayweather. People may not like his… I feel like I’m the female Floyd. I’m hated and I’m loved. I’m successful, I do my own thing, I live by my own rules. But at the end of the day, no matter who you put in the ring with me, I’m going to win. Floyd is just a winner. I love Floyd. 

Jarod Hector is a New York City born-and-raised sports and pop culture enthusiast. A multimedia content creator & host who enjoys nuanced discussions of the intersection between sports, culture, and society. He believes My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is the greatest album of the past 20 years, and says if you root for billionaire owners over millionaire athletes you’re part of the problem. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @jshector.

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