Many people already know of Claressa “T-Rex” Shields, and many more will in the weeks and months to come. Just over a month ago, Shields, 22, a professional boxer and two-time Olympic gold medalist, became the Unified Super Middleweight World Champion in just the fourth professional fight of her career.
And despite the air of humble confidence that she exudes, not even she saw herself achieving that title so quickly.
“Being a world champion,” Shields described, “I maybe thought in the years to come, you know? Maybe, like, when I’m 26, 28…I always see myself being a champion though,” her trademark humility always hand-in-hand with her unwavering self-belief. Eleven years after that same self-belief allowed her to flourish as a promising young boxer, Shields has her World Championship title.
However, in 2006, Shields was just a young girl from Flint, Michigan with relatively short arms (she has them to thank for her boxing alias), walking through the doors of the Berston Field House in her hometown for the first time.
But it wasn't because of a burning personal desire that she began her boxing career.
“Well when I first started I strictly went to box so my dad could live some of his life through me,” she said.
Shields’ father, Clarence, served seven years in prison from the time she was two until the age of nine. “He said, if he would have stuck to what he was passionate about, he would've never been in that situation. And I said what was that? And he said boxing.”
It didn’t take long for Shields to realize her love for the sport: “The first day I walked in the gym…I felt at home.” It was inside that gym, over the course of six years, that her coach and mentor Jason Crutchfield would transform the eager 11-year-old into the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal in boxing (London, 2012). The question is, what does one do after becoming the first woman to win it again (Rio, 2016)?
For Shields, the answer was easy. Amateur fights were not cutting it for her anymore, and it was time to go pro. In only four professional fights, she became the fastest female boxer in history to win a world title belt. On Aug. 4, in a display of sheer boxing prowess, Shields defeated the defending Super Middleweight World Champion Nikki Adler by TKO to claim her belt. Shields dominated inside the ring, finishing multiple rounds in the five-round fight without taking one hit from Adler.
While Shields fights for her love of the sport, she fights for other reasons too, using her newfound fame as a platform for change. Through her charity work with Up2Us Sports, she inspires young people, mainly girls, to find the confidence to do what they love and stay true to themselves, a quality that resonates deeply with Shields. “Be who you are, believe in God, and everything will work out,” she said, stressing the importance of the motto in her life.
With a rise to the top so quickly, it’s hard to imagine how Shields could possibly build on her record-breaking career that began in 2012. But as is the way of the game, boxing is ever moving, always breeding new contenders in the unending battle for a belt. Even in her celebratory moments following the Adler victory, Shields was faced with questions about her future, and whom she would fight next. Many suggested the German fighter Christina Hammer, the undefeated WBO and WBC middleweight champion (21-0). And while some fans even dreamed about the idea of Shields taking on UFC champion Cris Cyborg after a video surfaced of the two sparring in the gym, Shields confirmed that the bout was just for training.
However, Shields’ immediate future remains undefined at the moment. She seems to quite enjoy her laurels. And yet with all her success, she plans for an even bigger future. For years, Michigan has produced some of the world’s greatest boxers, names as memorable as Floyd Mayweather and Joe Louis. Now, history turns its eyes to Claressa Shields. The stage is set, and she knows exactly what she wants:
“I want to go down in history as the best woman fighter that ever lived,” she says with confidence. For a fighter like her, that goal may not be far out of reach. After all, there’s a reason the T-Rex is the most memorable dinosaur.