The Motor City showed up Saturday at the Little Caesars Arena in Detroit for big-time prizefighting. Michigan native Claressa Shields of Flint (14-0, 2 KOs) brought the Motor City Madness, putting on a power punching show for 11,784 fans against Maricela Cornejo of Los Angeles (16-6, 6 KOs).
Shields delivered the hits in Motown, winning by unanimous decision with shutout scorecards. Scores were 100-89, 100-90 X 2. Shields remains the undisputed, unified middleweight champion and number one pound-for-pound women's boxer.
Cornejo was a late replacement after her original opponent Hanna Gabriels tested positive for a banned substance. The number one middleweight challenger, Cornejo, took the fight on nine days' notice. Now training in Las Vegas with Ismael Salas, Cornejo was in good condition but not at the same level as Shields.
“I felt great. I landed my shots. I won every round like I knew I could. I pressed for the knockout, but Maricela is just tough. She's sturdy when I started hitting her,” said Shields.
Focus on Offensive Skills
Shields signaled her intentions early, going after Cornejo with a solid left jab and hooks from both sides to set up the overhand right and straight right. Shields said she had been working on her power punching with trainer John David Jackson during training for this bout.
It would be a tall order to stop Cornejo, who had never been knocked down in her professional career.
Shields did her best, forcing Cornejo backward and placing her punches well. Shields pinned Cornejo to the ropes and corner several times. Cornejo seemed one step behind, taking shots and unable to fire back.
A huge straight right hand in round seven snapped Cornejo's head back. If any punch could put Cornejo on the canvas, it was this one. Credit Cornejo with an impressive chin. While Cornejo didn't score the upset win, she walked away with her pride and kept her streak, ending every fight on her feet in place.
Shields: ‘I always have more'
Shields said she needed to stay smart and not get hit with Cornejo's right hand. “It's all about skill and will and heart. I always have more than the other girls.”
Shields said her straight rights “were money. When I hit her hard, she'd take off.”
“Maricela was super tough … She's in shape, she knows how to take the shots. It was a great fight, I can't wait to go home and watch it, and see what I need to work on.”
Shields thanked the fans for coming out. “It means so much to me. I want to make you guys proud.”
Notable fans watching Shields and cheering her on via social media included current and former champions Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr., Regis Prograis, Jamel Herring, and Zab Judah. Shields' good friends and former opponent, unified super middleweight champion Franchon Crews-Dezurn, once again provided Shields with her Michigan theme gold and green ring attire.
Jackson said of Shields' offense, “I'd rather she use a straight right hand down the middle. She's controlling the fight the way she wants to.”
“She deserves where she's at,” said Jackson of Cornejo. “We didn't take her lightly.”
What's Ahead for Shields?
Shields continues to improve her technique, accuracy, punch selection and power working with Jackson. The wild looping punches are greatly diminished. Now Shields needs to work on her body punching. Her best and only notable body shot of the night came in the last minute of the fight. If she'd deployed them earlier, perhaps she might have stopped Cornejo.
Shields plans to be ringside in England for the upcoming super middleweight unification fight between her friend and former challenger Crews-Dezurn and Savannah Marshall, with Shields likely to face the winner. “I'll be looking at that fight. I'll go over to the UK and show my face a little bit,” smiled Shields.
Also waiting in the wings is a formidable rising star, super middleweight Shadasia Green of New Jersey. The 33-year-old Green has 11 knockouts in 12 pro fights. In her last fight in February, Green stopped Elin Cederroos for the first time as a pro in six rounds. This is the fight we'd like to see.
Holmes Jr. Squeaks Past Tough Toussaint
Super welterweight Adreal Holmes Jr. of Flint, Michigan (14-0, 5 KOs) found himself in a rough and tumble fight with Wendy Toussaint of Huntington, New York (14-2, 6 KOs). After a slow start, Toussaint was gaining momentum. He lost a point in round four for a chopping right hand behind the head of Holmes Jr.
It seemed Toussaint might pull out the victory, but his momentum was cut short due to a massive accidental head clash opening an enormous cut on Toussaint. It started pouring blood, but initially, the fight continued. It fired up both fighters, along with the Detroit fans, as the pair continued. But within another minute, referee Gerard White stopped the bout at 1:54 of the eighth round, sending it to the scorecards. The point deduction made the difference in the split decision victory for Holmes Jr. by scores of 77-74 and 76-75 for Homes, 77-72 for Toussaint. The knowledgeable Detroit fans saw Toussaint as the winner and booed the results. Holmes Jr. wins the vacant IBF Super Welterweight title.
James Hicks Shines in National Spotlight
Detroit middleweight Joseph Hicks (7-0, 5 KOs) put on a dominating performance in his first nationally televised fight, schooling Antonio Todd of Atlanta (14-8, 8 KOs). It was all Hicks in a shutout eight-round decision, with all scores reading 80-72. It was the first eight-round bout for Hicks, who's only been a professional for 18 months and fought in regional bouts in Michigan save one bout in Atlantic City. There is plenty of room at the top of the middleweight division if Hicks can continue to perform well.