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Claressa Shields Fights for a Legacy and Payday Rightfully Hers for the Taking

Claressa Shields is looking for all the boxing titles. And a payday to match.

Claressa Shields wants your money.

She wants more than your money, of course. She wants your titles. You, in this case, being any women’s boxer weighing between 154 and 168 pounds. Marie-Eve Dicaire, the undefeated Canadian, has one, which Shields will attempt to relieve her of when the two square off in Shields’s hometown of Flint, Mich., on Friday.

She wants a legacy. No fighter, male or female, has been the undisputed champion in two weight divisions in the four-belt era. Shields, a former undisputed champ at 160 pounds, would be the first. Evander Holyfield accomplished the feat in the three-belt era of the 1980s and '90s. Shields spoke to Holyfield recently. His advice: Stick with what makes you great.

Shields wants all that.

But really … she wants your money.

Shields-Dicaire will headline an independent pay-per-view Friday. It will be Shields’s first fight on pay-per-view—and the first in women's boxing since Laila Ali and Jacqui Frazier headlined a card in 2001 in a battle between two daughters of legendary fathers. It wasn’t Shields's first choice. Showtime, the network that has carried several of Shields's recent fights, had planned to show Shields’s next fight. But when her dates continued to be moved, Shields chose to strike out on her own.

“I’m betting on myself,” Shields told the SI Boxing Podcast. “And that’s something I can live with.”

She admits—Showtime’s inability to give her a date irritates her. Shields (10–0) has been a regular on Showtime’s calendar dating back to 2017, when the network aired her knockout win over Szilvia Szabados. It was Shields’s second pro fight—and the first time a premium network card had been headlined by two women.

Shields believed her history earned her some equity with the network.

“I've been able to show them the numbers like me and Hanna Gabriels's spot,” Shields says. (Shields-Gabriels drew an average audience of 376,000, per Nielsen Media Research.) “That's not a pay-per-view, but that's [376,000] for a regular Showtime fight up on a Saturday night. David Benavidez—he's doing 188,000. Adrian Broner—he just came back. He did 288,000. Erickson Lubin, Terrell Gausha, even Shawn Porter—they’re in the 150,000 [range], right? So when we talk about my work on Showtime, I was working a lot on Showtime. I just wasn't given an opportunity.”

Showtime officials insist Shields wasn’t singled out. The COVID-19 pandemic froze boxing for several months. When Showtime resumed doing shows, it had a limited budget. The network had a contractual obligation to Premier Boxing Champions, which has a multiyear deal with Showtime. Shields was among several fighters who were left without a date.

Further, while Shields has posted some solid ratings on Showtime, recently her numbers have been in decline. Her win over Ivana Habazin in January 2020 drew an average audience of 255,000 viewers. With most of the high-profile talent in women’s boxing in the lighter weights, Shields has struggled to find marketable opponents. And while Shields rarely loses rounds, she lacks the power to produce compelling knockouts.

Shields, though, believes she has built enough of a fan base to make Friday’s event a success. The card will be offered on Fite.TV for $29.99. Shields-Dicaire will headline an all-women pay-per-view which will include Marlen Esparza, Shields’s former Olympic teammate and flyweight contender. Shields hopes a successful event will establish a baseline for how women boxers should get paid.

“We need to have our own numbers for the women,” Shields says. “We need to be able to say, ‘Look, you can't pay us $20,000 if we have 100,000 [viewers] watching us.’ That’s just not right. Everybody else is making money among men. And they got women getting paid $5,000 for a world championship fight. That’s not right.”

Regardless of what happens Friday, Shields is planning a busy 2021. In June, Shields will make her MMA debut. She has been training for several months at the Jackson Wink MMA Academy in Albuquerque. Holly Holm, the former UFC champion, has been one of her coaches. The shift to MMA, Shields admits, has been challenging.

“I was walking to the cage the first day and I thought to myself, ‘Jesus, what am I doing here?’ ” Shields says. “But it was just about getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. And I've gotten comfortable with that. So I practice jiu-jitsu, wrestling, kickboxing and, of course, boxing. And it's all about mixing it all together to be the fighter that I feel comfortable being.”

Shields hopes to return to boxing in the fall. She’s eyeing women in her weight classes—Savannah Marshall recently won one of Shields’s former middleweight belts and has a history with Shields, having defeated her in an amateur tournament in 2012—and makes it clear she is willing to cut down to 147 pounds for the right fight. She’s interested in the winner of the rematch between Jessica McCaskill and Cecilia Braekhus, who will fight for the undisputed welterweight championship March 13. And she’s open to facing Katie Taylor, the undisputed 135-pound champion, if Taylor is willing to move up to 147. A Taylor-Shields matchup would be arguably the biggest women’s fight of all time.

“We've yet to see Katie Taylor get in with a girl who possessed my kind of skills and also comes forward to where, now you got to move and you got to punch and you got to be defensive,” Shields says. “You got to do a whole lot. So, it'd be a very interesting fight. I would love to see what Katie has to say about us. She knows that I love her. But if ever comes down to it, the greatest woman has to be decided in the ring. And if she's ever up for a fight at 147 [pounds], I'll tell her I will not turn down.”

Up first though, Dicaire (17–0), for junior middleweight titles, for legacy … and your money. Shields has long been a pioneer in women’s boxing, from her two Olympic gold medals to her history making run in the professional ranks. Headlining her first pay-per-view isn’t nerve-wracking. It’s just what’s next.