Amy Green chats with woman’s boxing historian Malissa Smith, who breaks down the super fight between undefeated champions Claressa Shields and Christina Hammer.
Decades ago women’s boxing fans were denied the match between Laila Ali and Ann Wolfe that would define the best of the best in the sport. This Saturday, authentic women’s boxing fans (casuals and the curious alike) will finally get that defining match. Claressa Shields, (8-0), the USA two time gold medalist meets German champion Christina Hammer, (24-0) for a stack of titles in the middleweight division: the IBO, WBA, WBC and WBO.
The two fighters couldn’t be more different. Shields is full of bravado and street cred, outspoken and has backed up her talk in each of her eight victories. Hammer, by contrast is cool and reserved, with the haute attitude of a super model (she has modeled previously). This match which will be broadcast live from Atlantic City on Showtime, and even had supporting programming of the pre fight series “All Access” to boost interest.
Showtime president Stephen Espinoza sees the fight as not only an important women’s fight but as a high quality boxing match. Malissa Smith, renowned women’s boxing historian and author (A History of Women’s Boxing) is in agreement with Espinoza, and offered her insights on the fight.
Right away Smith addressed the importance of Shields/Hammer. “The Showtime main event match to establish the undisputed Female Middleweight Champion between Claressa Shields and Christina Hammer is one of the more important contests in the 25-year plus campaign to legitimize the place of female boxers in the sport of boxing,” she said.
Smith also pointed out this is the time marketing and career wise for this fight to take place. “Both fighters are experienced, ring savvy, strong fighters in excellent condition and with enough exposure at the championship level to cope with the pressures that come with contesting a bout at that level,” she explained, and continued.
“Not lost on either one of them is the fact that this comes at a pivotal moment in the sport-when the tide can easily turn either way with respect to the place of women in boxing in the United States, and whether it can begin to rise in exposure to the levels currently experienced by women in MMA.”
The mix of skills must also be right, Smith determined and properly displayed to capture the boxing public’s attention and garner new fans. “With a successful outing-meaning a showcase of excellence in boxing skill, fighting ability, and heart,” Smith said, “these two exceptional fighters will demonstrate its viability as an investment for the future.
This will translate into a greater willingness of promoters and media outlets to more readily put female fights on each and every fight card and promote the concept of pitting top female contenders against one another, versus the kind of lopsided matchmaking that has plagued the sport on and off for years.”
But Smith cautioned, this doesn’t come easily, even given amazing skill and marketability of the fighters. “This can only occur, however, if promoters are willing to invest the money necessary for real purses, as well as to give visibility and support to the younger fighters making their way into the professional ranks, as well as giving air time to the journey-women professional fighters who have been the backbone of the sport since the mid-2000s,” she stated.
These factors are important to the sports’ success, and Smith believes Showtime should use the event as a measure for their future women’s promotions. “I’m not saying that everything rides on this-but I’ll guess that Stephen Espinoza at Showtime is betting that it will pay off for him as he looks at how best to program further Showtime female boxing events and how he can best utilize the momentum of this contest to continue to support the continued rise of the sport.”
Once everything falls into place, the marketing and behind the scenes machinations, it’s fight time and the fans are more than ready for action. Claressa Shields has captured mainstream attention with stars like MMA’s Cris Cyborg and Oscar winner Halle Berry taking in her fights. Just 24 years old, Shields also has the distinction of two Gold medals, and a stellar amateur record of 77-1, and 8-0 as a professional.
Hammer, not quite as well known, has still managed to catch the attention of the fighting public with her undefeated resume. But Saturday night, as the saying goes “somebody’s “0” has got to go and Smith analyzed the styles of both Shields and Hammer and how the fight could play out.
“When it comes to the ring, Shields is an explosive fighter with quick hands, excellent body movement, a quirky instinct for how to keep her opponents off kilter, and absolutely no fear,” Smith said. “If anything her explosiveness has been a hindrance in her early outings,” she continued, “but under the careful tutelage of trainer John David Jackson, Shields has been working on being more economical in the ring by paying greater attention to setting up her shots, punching sharper, and leaving some of the emotion to the pre fight rhetoric rather than in the ring.”
Even with these improvements, Smith noted, Shields still needs to be wary. “Shields still has be mindful of leaving herself open for the counter as Hanna Gabriels, a super welterweight who moved up to middleweight to fight her, ably showed with a clean right upper cut that dropped Shields for the first time in her professional career,” Smith said. “Shields went on to win their Showtime main event bout by unanimous decision, 98-91, 97-92 x 2,” she recalled, “having recovered quickly and slowing down enough to a stiffen her jab, use a panoply of thunderous combinations, and in general wearing down her much older opponent. She also worked hard at not getting caught across the fight, sharpened her defensive skills and offensive posturing.”
As for Hammer, she’s not without a great game in the ring, which Smith defined. “For her part, while relatively unknown in the United States, Christina Hammer, 28 years of age, will come into the fight with a three inch height and reach advantage (according to BoxRec), a super sharp jab, and the WBO World Female Middleweight Title, which she has held since winning it in 2010 at the age of 19,” Smith revealed. “Hammer who has fought professionally since 2009 also sports an amateur record of 22-1 in her adopted country of Germany, having missed out on winning the 2008 German National Championship by one point.”
“At 5’11” Christina Hammer fights tall, using her height and considerable reach to her advantage,” Smith continued. “While not explosive in the sense of Shields, Hammer uses levels, combinations, and a stiff omnipresent jab to keep her opponents at a distance. She’s also not afraid to be physical and will hold, pivot, and push off her opponents to set up counters or to avoid getting pummeled.”
“She is also an orthodox fighter, with more of a European style, meaning she fights fairly square,” Smith observed, “but given that she moves well and is able to command the ring, she is very effective at avoiding getting touched.” There is an exception to that is from 2014, which Smith mentioned. “The one question in her career was her 2014 bout against Anne-Sophie Mathis for the vacant WBO female light middleweight title, which was stopped when Mathis was disqualified for hitting Hammer behind the ear, although it was later ruled a no-contest.”
En route to the showdown with Shields, Smith also noted Hammer’s resume. “She clearly outworked Tori Nelson, who had also lost to Shields, and showed skills far and above Nelson’s. Her latest outing against Elene Sikmashviili (8-7) in February was nothing more than a tune-up and Hammer’s heartbeat was barely raised before she got the TKO win.”
When faced with making a prediction for Shields/Hammer, Smith is calculated in her assessment.
“I think this fight will be a tough, hard fought contest through ten non-stop, action-packed rounds,” she said. “Both fighters will come to this fight in excellent condition having worked hard in camp to prepare and given the skill sets each holds, put themselves at serious risk if they do not come into the ring both physically and mentally prepared to rumble.”
Smith also points out fans will be treated to fireworks, given the passion and fearlessness of both fighters. “Both fighters also want to win, and though Shields is considered hot-blooded to Hammer’s coolness, both of these boxers are not afraid to “mix-it-up” and in my estimation they will do so from the opening bell.”
When it comes to banging or boxing, Hammer will likely take the boxer route. “Of the two, Hammer is likely more the boxer,” Smith said, “but she also has power, a stinging jab, the ability to throw quick combinations, and the stamina to stick and move.” But she hasn’t faced anyone with Shields tenacity or toughness. “What she has not done in her recent outings is fight a boxer as aggressive as Shields,” Smith pointed out, “or as quick. Shields is not only an explosive fighter, but she loves to provide pressure and with her angles, fast combinations and ability to cover the distance of the ring in a flash, she will certainly test Hammer often and early.”
In the heat of battle, Smith sees a variety of tactics from both fighters coming into play. “My sense is that Hammer will use a combination of the jab, movement, and when necessary, grab on Shields to avoid an onslaught,” she said, and Shields will need to be poised enough to wait for landing her best shots. “For her part, if Shields is patient in how she uses both her aggressive and defensive capabilities, she will have an opportunity to not only land clean shots, but also stymie Hammer’s ability to touch her effectively.”
Smith foresees a distance fight on April 13. “I do not think this contest will end in a KO, but one or the other could score a flash knock down,” she said. “From Shields part, it will be a matter of patience before using an explosive shot,” she explained, “and for Hammer’s part, it will mean taking advantage of Shields inattention to her defensive posture. As for who wins – I give it to Shields, in a close contest with scores somewhere in the 96-94, 97-93 range.”
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