Expect fireworks in one of the most highly-anticipated women's boxing matches in history, which will take place Saturday, September 10 when two-time Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields battles Savannah Marshall.
It's a fight 10 years in the making after Marshall edged Shields by decision at the 2012 AIBA Women's World Championships in Qinhuangdao, China. Shields has not tasted defeat since.
Following her Olympic triumphs, Shields turned pro in 2016 and has gone on to collect world titles in three weight classes (junior middleweight, middleweight, super middleweight), including becoming undisputed in two of those divisions. A win over Marshall would make her undisputed in an unprecedented third weight class.
But the 27-year-old Shields (12-0, 2 KOs), the IBF-WBA-WBC middleweight champion, could be in for the toughest night of her career. England's Marshall, who holds the WBO strap, has pop. She’s also 12-0, but has 10 knockouts to her credit. And while one can argue that Shields has faced better competition and has accomplished more as a professional, that doesn't mean Marshall isn't capable of putting her lights out.
Fighting flat-footed is a flaw in and of itself, but if you're stuck in the mud against a quick and agile fighter with the weak side angle within their reach, it could be a stylistic matchup from hell. This will be the challenge for Shields. Can she utilize her jab to keep Marshall at bay and limit her ability to inflict damage for 10 rounds?
There's no doubt that there is a lot of bad blood between both sides. Shields badly wants to avenge the amateur loss to Marshall, and the latter is yearning to prove that the win was no fluke. Theoretically, both fighters could deviate from their game plans and fight with their emotions at the forefront.
This could potentially benefit Marshall. It's a game of risk vs. reward. If Marshall spends too much time looking for the knockout, she could run out of gas, allowing Shields to use her distance and frustrate her rhythm with the jab and staying out of range from the left hook. On another foot, Shields is not a big puncher, and Marshall could get tagged with some shots coming in, but if Shields can't land anything significant enough to prevent her attacks, it could be a very long or a very short night.
Shields tends to get her feet stuck in the mud, a dangerous flaw against a fighter like Marshall, who uses angles during her exchanges. If she has the weak side angle within her reach and Shields' feet are cemented to the canvas, Shields could be in trouble.
But bear in mind, Marshall hasn't gone the distance in the last four years, and all but one of her knockouts have come before the sixth round. If Marshall cannot finish Shields early, can she knock her out late?
On Saturday, an influx of questions will be answered in the form of Shields' chin and Marshall's gas tank. But oddly enough, this fight may not even come down to those two topics.
This fight takes place at The O2 Arena in London. It's a hometown fight for Marshall, and the cards are stacked against Shields, who deserves full credit for agreeing to fight in her arch-rival's backyard. If anything, this exemplifies that Shields' impeccable confidence is not for show and that she genuinely believes her boxing skills are so much better than her opponent's that the judges will have no choice but to score the fight in her favor.
It's a risky play, and whether you like Shields or not, you can't deny she is very consistent about her belief that she is the GWOAT (Greatest Woman of All-Time). If she beats Marshall, it certainly strengthens her case.
This is a 50-50 fight on paper, and I see it playing out that way in the ring, but—again—it's in England.
PREDICTION: Marshall by unanimous decision.