Two-time Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields remained undefeated with a unanimous decision over Christina Hammer to unify all four belts at 160lbs
What had been pitched in the broad strokes of boxing promotion as the most significant women’s fight in a generation was, more immediately, the biggest test of Claressa Shields’ nascent professional career. Turns out it wasn’t much of a challenge at all.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist from the United States is now a four-belt world champion after overwhelming Christina Hammer and winning a 10-round unanimous decision with a comprehensive exhibition of hand speed, effective aggression and much-improved defense in Saturday night’s highly anticipated middleweight title unification fight inside the Adrian Phillips Theater at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall. Ringside judges Guido Cavalleri and Robin Taylor handed down scores of 98-91 while Lynne Carter had it 98-92. (The Guardian scored it 99-91.)
Shields, who had already won a belt at super middleweight in her fourth professional fight to back up her London and Rio golds, added Hammer’s long-held WBO title to the IBF, WBA and WBC straps that she’s collected since dropping down to 160lbs less than a year ago, becoming only the second champion in the history of the women’s section to simultaneously hold all four major title belts in any division after Norway’s Cecilia Brækhus, the welterweight queen regarded as the best fighter pound for pound today. So rare is the feat in today’s decentralized climate that four men have managed it: the reigning cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk, junior welterweight Terence Crawford and middleweights Bernard Hopkins and Jermain Taylor.
Afterward the cocksure 24-year-old from Flint, Michigan – undefeated in nine paying fights and a winner in 77 of her 78 amateur bouts – animatedly called out both Brækhus and Savannah Marshall, the unbeaten British super middleweight whose defeat of Shields at the 2012 world championships represents the lone blemish on her lifetime ledger.
“I’ll go to the UK and beat Savannah Marshall,” Shields said afterward. “Bring me her. Bring her to me. I’ll kill her.”
Hammer (24-1, 11 KOs), a German émigrée from Kazakhstan and a world champion for nearly a decade, entered with two-inch advantages in height and reach and, crucially, the brand of seasoned pedigree in the pro ranks that made the 28-year-old seem more than capable of upsetting the nearly 3-1 odds against her.
Shields (9-0, 2 KOs) showed an appropriate measure of respect throughout a cagey first round, keeping safely out of range as Hammer looked to establish her educated jab. But after two minutes of careful observation, the American had seen everything she needed to know.
“I was just calculating: what is her jab like, how fast is she?” Shields said. “I was just calculating in the first round and after that I started picking her apart. I knew I could hurt her.”
Shields began stepping into the pocket and throwing punches in combination in the second round, connecting with a pair of cracking right hands toward the end of the frame that brought the audience of several thousand to its feet. Hammer was not seriously hurt by the shots, but they were enough to make the Dortmund fighter appear tentative from as early as the third as she circled back and to the left away from Shields’ powerful right. The German was trying to work off the jab, but Shields slipped one offering after another with deft head movement.
Shields continued to score with the jab and the right hand in the middle rounds as Hammer, drifting into survival mode, seemed to expend all her energy keeping her opponent at bay. For all the questions surrounding the American’s power, it was Shields’ defense, an upgrade on Saturday from even her most recent fights, that stood out as Hammer looked confused and without a plan B as the fight reached the midpoint.
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