KO Hungry Claressa Shields vs Hannah Rankin on DAZN
By David A. Avila
Each time Claressa Shields enters the prize ring, new ground is broken and new doors open for female boxing.
When the two-time Olympic gold medalist Shields (6-0) fights Scotland’s Hannah Rankin (5-2) on Saturday Nov. 17, at Mulvane, Kansas, she’ll not only add the WBC middleweight title to the WBA and IBF, but brings her growing clout to DAZN which is streaming the fight card.
“Every fight has been against a winning record for Claressa,” said Mark Taffet, who manages Shields and is a former head executive for HBO Sports.
Since Shields departed the amateur boxing program for prizefighting, she’s heralded female boxing like one of those super heroes popular on movies and television. Women’s boxing rides her cape as she swats former barriers aside with ease.
First, the glass ceiling that kept female boxing off television was shattered, then she dominated female world champions in the super middleweight division and snatched their belts away with a scowl as if punishing them for daring to hold something they weren’t worthy of holding.
In her last fight Shields moved down to the middleweight division and faced Costa Rica’s double world titlist Hanna Gabriels and the two engaged in a 10-round clash that woke up the boxing world. Showtime televised the event that just could be the Fight of the Year for 2018 in a fight that saw Shields climb off the deck and rally behind a gritty performance to win.
“That fight drew some of the biggest numbers,” said Taffet. “Two champions in the ring, the best against the best.”
After the Gabriels fight in June, the routes were charted and approved for a mega showdown with Germany’s super talented Christina Hammer. Showtime again was ready to televise the battle between undefeated middleweights. But sickness prevented the tall German fighter from proceeding.
Women’s boxing was about to take a hit.
If this were two years ago women’s boxing would have taken a severe hit, but the world of female prizefighting has seen radical changes in coverage with streaming services like ESPN+ and DAZN entering the arena.
Shields was offered a spot on the fight card against a fighter of her choice. Just as her team selected Rankin as the opposition, a call from Norway’s Cecilia Braekhus arrived with an offer to fight the undefeated welterweight at Los Angeles on HBO. But the Rankin fight was already done, thus the world barely missed seeing Shields versus Braekhus.
“Right now everything is just talk right now. Everybody knows I want the big fights. I don’t want a belt at 147. I want the Muhammad Ali belt. In order to have that if I’m able to meet the pound for pound champion I can be the pound for pound champion,” said Shields about meeting Braekhus later down the road at 154 pounds.
That’s OK. That fight can sit and percolate for next year or later.
Shields doesn’t turn 24 until March 17. She has time to spare.
This fight against Rankin will be Shields’ second visit to the land of the 160-pound middleweights. In women’s boxing the lower you drop in weight, the more competition exists.
“I would describe (Rankin’s) style as very aggressive. She may make the fight ugly because she can’t outbox me,” said Shields about her next foe Rankin. “There is not a style I can’t beat.”
Rankin has a target on her back and like all prizefighters from the United Kingdom welcomes the challenge.
“I want to fight the best,” said Rankin to the London Times. “Don’t write me off, I can beat Claressa Shields.”
For most of this year Shields has been working with veteran pro trainer John David Jackson whose last star pupil was knockout artist Sergey Kovalev. He also trained Sugar Shane Mosley for a spell. The middleweight division was where Jackson twice held world titles as a fighter. He knows the game and knows all about knockouts.
Knockouts were the reason Shields made the change.
“The biggest change for me I think is placing my punches. It’s hardest to do when you don’t understand, I’ve always punched in combinations, but now it’s placing my shots. Identifying when you have somebody hurt, being relaxed,” said Shields about her new emphasis. “A knockout comes in a surprise. I don’t have to put 100 percent on every punch. Just being relaxed, setting my shots up, that’s mainly most of it.”
The pro game prefers power and knockouts, the amateur game likes speed and movement. Shields wants those knockouts. Rankin will be the litmus test for the work that her trainer Jackson has focused on in their Florida training camp.
“John David Jackson is a master of the pro style,” says Taffet who led HBO to become a power in the boxing world while heading the network’s sports programming. “One of the biggest interests was seeing her transition from amateur to pro style.”
When Shields meets Rankin on Saturday she brings her thousands of fans with her into the female boxing world. DAZN will be the recipient of Shields army of followers.
Shields will also be looking to add another scalp to her knockout ledger.
“Nobody knows how pissed off my last fight made me. It drove me to the gym to have that mental edge. I’m not going to get knocked down,” said Shields. “I’m definitely not struggling with weight this fight.”
Instead of training to make weight, she’s focusing purely on the fight. And the target is set.
“It’s about me keeping my cool,” says Shields. “Being more relaxed and when you see a big shot, open up.”
It all happens in Kansas tomorrow.
(Photo by Sky Sports)