Revenge is a necessary evil in the boxing game.
In 2012, Savannah Marshall beat Claressa Shields in China to start the long road to the rematch this Saturday at London’s O2 Arena.
A few days after they met, Marshall won the world amateur title; later that year, Shields won the first of her two Olympic gold medals. She then turned professional, won titles at three weights and declared herself the “GWOAT”, which is not a prequel to Game Of Thrones. It means, according to Shields, Greatest Woman Of All Time.
Marshall went to two Olympics, never performed, turned pro with Floyd Mayweather and looked lost to the sport before a partnership with coach Peter Fury transformed her. She is now unbeaten in 12, a world champion, and she is dropping and knocking her opponents out for fun.
Marshall is the punching anomaly in a business where just about every single title fight goes the full, 10-round championship distance. Marshall has stopped 10 of her 12 opponents; Shields – also unbeaten – has only stopped two of her 12 opponents.
“Savannah has the power,” said Fury. “Claressa has the power; Claressa is not going to go quietly.”
The pair have clashed about six times in the 10 years since they fought, including a couple of ringside skirmishes at venues this year. Marshall handled the abuse with style, Shields was extremely agitated.
“I told the daft cow to calm down,” said Marshall in April when she topped the bill that night near her home in Newcastle. Marshall had just knocked out Femke Hermans to retain her WBO middleweight title. Femke was out cold for over a minute; Femke had previously gone the full 10 rounds with Shields in a title fight.
“She never stops talking about me,” Marshall said that night. Shields countered: “She is crazy if she thinks she can hit me with punches like that – I’m too good, too fast.”
They are probably both right.
A month later their fight was made. Shields brings her WBC, IBF and WBA titles to the party, and Marshall her WBO version. It is a very special fight on a special night – every bout will have only women at the O2.
The show will feature Olympic champions, world champions, and the hopefuls from a thriving business. When Marshall turned professional in 2017, there were just seven other women with a British Boxing Board of Control licence. There are over 40 now with another dozen being processed.
“There are some really talented young girls coming through,” said Mikaela Mayer. “In the future, the champions will be younger.”
Mayer is 32 and defending her WBO and IBF super-featherweight titles against the WBC champion, Alycia Baumgardner. It is one of the very best fights that can be made in all of boxing at any weight. The women have fewer big paydays, fewer easy fights to deliver proper money, and they are prepared to take big risks. They have to accept hard fights to make real money, which is harsh but true.
Shields vs Marshall and Mayer vs Baumgardner shame the many men simply refusing to take fights that the sport needs. The rise of the UFC business plan and the undercurrent of praise surrounding the bare-knuckle circus should not be ignored by the men running the boxing business.
The women are doing their bit to deliver the best possible fights, and this Saturday at the O2 is a magnificent event.
Shields wants revenge and Marshall wants respect. Mayer and Baumgardner will be breathless fun.
What a night, well done.