Chris Eubank Sr. used to come to the ring to Tina Turner's “Simply The Best,” and those words of that chorus echoed in my head when watching Claressa Shields defeat Savannah Marshall.
Shields' story is well-documented, coming from Flint, Michigan, a town that seemingly the U.S. has given up, with drinking water often being bought at the store instead of tap water due to the water crisis. Shields even has blue in her hair in each fight to symbolize the fight for equitable water in her community. For those unaware of the water crisis that started in 2014 when Flint's pipeline began taking water from the Flint River without treating it properly, contaminating it with lead. As with most awful and evil deeds, the reason is to save money.
Quite simply, profits margins over human life – which seems unfathomable to me.
Shields is someone who the United States might have given up on her community at times, but she never gave up on our country. Shields has been largely ignored as the best women's athlete in the Olympic Games in recent memory. Her historic achievements in multiple weight classes, becoming undisputed two times over, have gone unnoticed by many hardcore observers.
Beating Savannah Marshall was the last bit of doubt any detractor could take away from her. Marshall is fearsome, a power-puncher who beat Shields in the amateurs, yet not unlike the beloved MMA fighter Fedor Emelianenko or even Errol Spence Jr. what made this performance so special was how Shields fought. Shields fought a fight that was advantageous to Marshall and beat Marshall at her own game. It was a moment in which she wanted to prove something – not just win.
Shields is a fighter – and the most telling part was seeing her corner with John David Jackson serving as the lead voice, living and dying by each blow in the bout. This was not just a fight that meant a lot to Shields; her team views her as greatness and wanted her to have a great moment. Shields' team knew who she was and wanted the world to see her capabilities. Shields didn't disappoint, as what we got was the best fight of her career to date.
Shields started her career unmatched, defeating now undisputed super middleweight world champion Franchon Crews Dezurn in her pro debut, followed by stopping Nikki Adler, the IBF and WBC super-middleweight champion, in only her fourth pro fight.
That start became minimized by her performance against Hanna Gabriels, who dropped Shields in a fight Shields won. Shields would fight solid competition but not get noticed much until defeating Christina Hammer, who was considered Shields' equal heading into that bout. Shields outclassed early and often in their bout.
Shields' career has been confusing and, at times, clunky. She made her way into a man's world of boxing – but at times, also took sidesteps to get there. The awful incident that saw Ivana Habazin's trainer Bashir Ali being punched at the weigh-in comes to mind. People are complicated, and Shields is complicated.
Not unlike LeBron James, Claressa Shields is someone who is complex.
I like certain things about her and dislike others – and I bet if she met me, she would probably feel the same about me.
Yet, Shields, who has faced a lot of criticism from the media over the years, spoke to a basic human truth on Saturday night after getting her career-defining win – love. Shields could've gloated but instead came to tears. It was the first time I felt we had seen the real Claressa Shields, the one that motivated her to be so great, the one who outworked men in the gym and went from a local boxing gym – to becoming a celebrity. Her journey has been the American dream in every sense of the word, but she has seemingly been deep in thought for a lot of her career, as though voices from the past haunt her still. Shields would give soundbites, but they always felt as if they were what she felt comfortable showing and not always the entire truth of what she is facing.
After beating Savannah Marshall, the raw emotion of the moment was not unlike seeing Michael Jordan hug the NBA Championship; Shields wanted respect – and knew she had taken it on this night. “I bit down in every round,” Shields said. “In every round, it felt like she would hit me with a big shot, and I would hit her with a big shot. If she hit me to the body, I'd punch her to the body. But I know that I did the most work today and that I was winning with my inside combinations.”
What will go unnoticed is that Shields and Marshall, by the end of the week, seemed slightly fond of one and another. Both needed a true foil, an opponent to bring out their best, and they both obviously respected each other. After the fight, Shields remarked that “…this was the toughest fight of her career” to Marshall.
Shields is an all-time great. We don't judge her by normal fighter standards. Her average is most people's great – now she has done something historic. She defeated the boogey women of the division in Marshall, in the U.K. It is not a matter of if Shields is a legend, but simply – how legendary can Shields become.
It is quite amazing what handwork and self-belief will do, as Shields found what God put her on this planet to do and is unapologetic in who she is. Not unlike Ronda Rousey in MMA, Shields is breaking down new barriers and forcing respect to be put on her name, as well as women's boxing as a whole – all while being unapologetically feminine.
We are seeing something truly special with Shields, and for those who watched this fight live, you might have seen two fighters enter the ring, but I believe we saw two legends exit, as Shields and Marshall competing at the highest level is what the sport of boxing is based on.