Claressa Shields is used to being the first. The youngest boxer at the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials, she became the first U.S. boxer to win the first-ever Olympic gold medal in the first year that women’s boxing became an Olympic sport (2012). She repeated the feat in 2016.
On the first Saturday in June, Shields defeated Maricela Cornejo by unanimous decision and successfully defended her four middleweight championship belts. She is the only boxer in history, female or male, to hold all four major world titles simultaneously in two weight classes (WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO).
The Flint, Michigan native did it in front of 11,784 people in the downtown Detroit arena, the first time boxing has been held there since it opened in 2017. It also was the first time this columnist ever saw the 5’8” Shields fight.
According to CompuBox, which tracks every punch, the champ “consistently connected with clean, head-snapping blows” —230 jabs, 255 power shots—and had nearly four times as many total punches (124-32) and almost three times as many jabs (23-8). Cornejo was a last-minute replacement when Shields’ original opponent had to bow out due to a failed drug test.
“The only work that I could have done was getting the knockout,” Shields told me when asked if that was her at her best. “I’m not saying I could have done anything better. Other than that [a knockout], I think I did everything right.”
Cornejo said afterward, “I think I held my ground, and I know I caught her with some good shots.”
Even the winner praised her opponent. “Maricela is super tough. She was in shape and able to take the shots and able to get away from them. It was a great fight.”
Detroit has been the home of great boxing and great boxers for decades—Joe Louis ranks at the top of the list. Former champion and Detroiter Thomas Hearns, the first boxer to win world titles in five weight divisions during his four-decade boxing career, told me, “I think it is a great thing” to have boxing back in the D.
Shields’ 10-round fight was preceded by seven undercard fights that featured four championship bouts including hers. She oozes Flint pride, a city once known as “Vehicle City.” But since 2014, the city is known for its contaminated water because of bad politics.
“I am so proud to represent Flint,” she told me after her post-fight press conference. “That’s why I wear my hair blue—the water is not clean yet. We don’t ever give up. So, I’m happy that I was able to give everybody some hope.”
Like Flint, the Motor City is also a majority-Black city that’s had its share of bad politics over the years. “I think everything’s starting to look up for us,” said a Detroiter with pride, who I ran into before the fight, and was there with his two sons.
Shields (14-0), also pointed out that women’s boxing is big business: “The sport of boxing is changing, and not just women’s boxing and men’s boxing. It’s just boxing. We put all those myths to rest when they say women fighters don’t have fans, that they won’t come out.
“If you look at 20 years ago, 10 years ago, even five years ago, women boxers were not here. I truly believe that without me and all my trash talk, we would still be in the same place, especially if I hadn’t put in so much hard work and really fought the best.”
“I’ve been watching her [Shields] ever since she went to the Olympics,” admitted the Motor City native and boxing fan.
“Tonight was special,” concluded the champ. “I believe that we are a step closer to equality in boxing.”