Shields and Hammer Shine on Showtime

By Caryn A. Tate on June 22, 2018
Shields and Hammer Shine on Showtime
Shields dug her heels in and settled in to fight. (Stephanie Trapp/TrappFotos/Showtime)

Heading into this match-up, it was clear Gabriels was going to give Shields a tough fight, regardless of the outcome. That proved to be true…

Headlining another Showtime card in only her sixth professional fight, Claressa “T-Rex” Shields (6-0, 2 KOs) faced Hanna “La Amazona” Gabriels (18-2-1, 11 KOs) for the vacant IBF and WBA world middleweight titles. The card took place at the Masonic Temple in Detroit, Michigan, about 70 miles from Shield’s hometown of Flint.

Shields, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, won her first world titles—two of them—in only her fourth professional fight. That was in the super middleweight division. For this bout, Shields moved down to middleweight, cutting eight additional pounds, and recently changed trainers from her original coach to John David Jackson. Much attention has also been paid to a possible future bout between her and Christina Hammer, who fought in the co-main event tonight—rather than tonight’s match-up between Shields and Gabriels.

Claressa’s fundamentals and skills can’t be denied. She’s a phenomenal fighter. Her hand speed is blistering, her punch selection and accuracy is wonderful, and her footwork is highly effective. To top it all off, she has immeasurable self-confidence, which likely gives her an extra edge in the ring.

Gabriels, moving up from the junior middleweight division for this opportunity, is a world champion in the 154-pound class. She has highly skilled footwork and an athletic style, often fighting with her hands down as she bobs, weaves, and moves in and out to deliver her punches while typically perplexing her opponents with her mobility. She has good power of her own, keeping her foes honest, and 11 of her 18 wins have come by stoppage.

Heading into this match-up, it was clear Gabriels was going to give Shields a tough fight, regardless of the outcome. That proved to be true.

The two fighters came out fast in round one. Shields (wearing a red and silver kit inspired by the armor of the Dora Milaje in the film The Black Panther) landed a few nice shots but Gabriels proved to be a tricky, mobile opponent, moving in and out and making Shields miss with the right hand. Later in the round, Gabriels shocked everyone when she landed a right uppercut on Shields that hurt her, and followed it up with a swift left hook that put Shields down for the first time as a pro. Claressa beat the count but she was hurt.

As I said in my breakdown earlier this week. Gabriels is a very smart fighter. One can see when watching the knockdown sequence that Gabriels figured out that an uppercut could work, and she went for it. Throughout the fight, perhaps her most impressive asset was her intelligence—there were several times she utilized it to good effect.

Despite the early knockdown, Shields dug her heels in and settled in to fight. Her ability to overcome that adversity against such a difficult and experienced opponent, particularly in what is effectively her backyard, was impressive.

Shields and Gabriels continued throwing a lot of shots with a lot of power. Gabriels focused more on mobility and touching Shields, though she did put some mustard on her shots. Shields, however, seemed to throw nearly all of her shots with everything she could muster. By the middle rounds, both fighters were breathing through their mouths and had noticeably slowed down. They both appeared to have something left, though. Several of the middle rounds were close.

As she grew more tired, Shields began utilizing an interesting and effective trick that she uses periodically. She poses in front of her opponent, freezing her movement, almost as if playing possum and trying to lure them in. It almost always works, and when her foe takes a shot, Shields counters beautifully from a still position. She did that several times during tonight’s bout, particularly in the later rounds.

Shields mostly headhunted, but periodically caught Gabriels with some good, clean shots. Gabriels focused more on the body, particularly down the stretch when she knew her opponent was tiring. (Like I said, she’s a smart fighter.) There was a lot of back and forth and a ton of action. It was one of the more exciting fights shown on TV in recent months.

Towards the end of the tenth and final round, an accidental head butt occurred and cut Shields on the cheek. It looked like a nasty cut, but thankfully it happened late in the bout.

The judges scored the bout 97-92 twice, and 98-91 for Shields. The cards were a bit wide but at least they got the correct winner.

“I kept working. She’s very fast, and she does have a lot of power. I’m a smaller kid,” said Gabriels after the bout. “I’ll accept my loss with dignity. I gave my all. I think I probably landed more punches, or the same, I don’t know. But I’m not going to make excuses. I’m still a 154-pound champion.”

Shields said, “She’s strong. She caught me with a shot in the first round. She had some heart and she fought her ass off, and she showed she’s a champion. I may have got put on my ass, but it wasn’t over. I had to show I’m the greatest woman of all time.”

When asked about the future fight with Hammer, Shields said, “Bring her into the ring right now.” Hammer did climb between the ropes and the two began a heated verbal exchange.

Shields vs. Hammer is a bout to look forward to, but for now, the contest between Shields and Gabriels was without a doubt the best fight we’ve seen from the two-time Olympic gold medalist, and an excellent showing in Gabriels’ first fight on American TV. Both fighters should be proud of overcoming a lot of their own shares of adversity and showing how much heart and skill female fighters also have.

In the co-main event, WBC and WBO world middleweight champion Christina Hammer (23-0, 10 KOs) defended her titles against Tori “Sho Nuff” Nelson (17-2-3, 2 KOs). Hammer has a fairly traditional European style, standing tall (as she should, at 5’11”) and utilizing a very good jab to try to keep her opponents on the outside. Everyone knew heading into this bout that, in order to have any success, the 5’6½” Nelson would need to get inside on Hammer and go to work.

It became clear early on that Nelson wasn’t able to get around Hammer’s jab or her very good footwork to get on the inside. Early in round one, Hammer rocked Nelson with a straight jab. Since Nelson went the distance versus Shields back in January, it was surprising to see her hurt so early against Hammer.

Hammer displayed some highly effective and entertaining boxing as the rounds progressed. Her jab was nearly textbook perfect, and she used it well to keep Nelson on the outside. Her right hand followed the jab consistently, keeping Nelson’s hands at home more often than not. Hammer’s footwork was very good, and she kept Nelson turning constantly. She was simply on a different level from Nelson.

Nelson tried, but she couldn’t cut off the ring on Hammer and didn’t seem to know how to get around the jab. There were a few times throughout the fight when she was able to get inside, and she tried to catch Hammer with some short shots, but to Christina’s credit, she didn’t allow Nelson to have any real success. She would throw a couple of short punches of her own as she wheeled out and went back to her comfort zone on the outside, and it started all over again.

Oddly, the Showtime commentators began speculating that perhaps Hammer should do more to “impress” in the fight. It’s a shame that so many commentators put such an emphasis on knockouts—such that when a very good boxer like Hammer puts on a beautiful display of the sweet science, her skills are questioned. This isn’t good for the sport and it only causes the audience to become frustrated if a knockout doesn’t come. It would be great to see commentators focus more on educating what’s happening in the ring and why, rather than discussing things that aren’t happening and that no one can predict.

In the end, Hammer won a lopsided decision with one judge scoring it a shutout and the other two marking it 99-91.

“May the best win. Whoever is the winner, I’ll fight against her,” Hammer said regarding the headlining bout.

Without a doubt, we need to see more great female fighters on televised cards. Tonight’s event was a reminder that the female athletes of the sport have just as much to offer and deserve the opportunities to participate in good fights for good money the same as anyone else.

Opening the telecast was a 10-round light heavyweight bout between Russian Umar Salamov (21-1, 16 KOs) and Brian Howard (13-2, 10 KOs). Salamov was an amateur standout who now trains with Kronk’s Sugar Hill Steward, while Howard has a more grassroots background. He’s 38 years old and tends to be very inactive in the ring, only fighting once every couple of years or thereabouts. To top it all off, Howard normally competes at cruiserweight, so he had to squeeze down to the light heavyweight limit for this bout. All in all, it felt a bit too lopsided in Salamov’s favor. Turns out it wasn’t as lopsided as expected.

Round one was a feeling out round, and Salamov clearly won it by outlanding Howard. In round two, though, Howard stepped on the gas and began landing more, particularly a solid right hand. Later in the round, Howard obviously hurt Salamov with a right to the ear that staggered the Russian. He was able to survive it, but later, in a couple of separate clinches, Salamov threw what looked like fairly hard shots behind Howard’s head. The first time the referee warned Salamov but it was a light warning. In my view it called for a much more stern warning as Salamov seemed to do it on purpose out of frustration.

In the third, Salamov threw another behind the head shot early, and the referee didn’t appear to even be watching the boxers. Salamov took that round with more activity, but towards the end of the round, the fighters’ arms got tangled up and when they broke out of it, Salamov again punched Howard behind the head. The referee didn’t appear to say anything about it.

The rounds progressed fairly uneventfully, with neither fighter pulling ahead. Salamov won more rounds based on activity but that was it.

In round nine, Salamov hurt Howard with a right hand upstairs and dropped him, and the American was unable to continue. Salamov moved in and landed a shot after Howard was down, though he did pull the punch. Again, the referee didn’t seem to notice.

Said Showtime’s Steve Farhood following the fight: “Well, Sugar Hill Steward has a lot of work to do.”

Check out more of Caryn’s work at http://www.CarynATate.com and follow her on Twitter@carynatate

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  1. Kid Blast 05:37pm, 06/23/2018

    CS needs a major PR makeover. She needs to take a humbler path.

    Broner-type warning signs are beginning to go off ever-so -slightly.

  2. ceylon mooney 09:40am, 06/23/2018

    the shields-gabriels fight was very close. terrible commentary. cheerleading when shields would throw combinations and miss and they ignored when gabriels would land. so close.

    i cant disagree with the scores, but so many rounds were so so very close.
    shoulda been a lot of 10-10 rounds.

    had no idea gabriels was so good. it was AWESOME to finally see shields fight a near-equal.

  3. Kid Blast 08:14am, 06/23/2018

    shield’s DEPORTMENT NEEDS A LOT OF WORK. She IS WORSE THAN Charlo.

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