It was a fight made a decade ago and finished in front of nearly 20,000 people on an unforgettable night of boxing. An evening when reputations were secured.
Claressa Shields beat Savannah Marshall at the O2 Arena in London late on Saturday night to get revenge for a loss in 2012 and end all arguments, debates and claims about her status.
She is known as the “GWOAT”, which is a tricky acronym to enjoy, but she is arguably the greatest woman of all time in the ring. The facts fit the name: Shields has won world titles now at three different weights, held all four belts twice, and won back-to-back Olympic gold medals. Her only loss as an amateur or professional in nearly 90 fights was that solitary defeat by Marshall in 2012.
On Saturday, it was the best Shields ever in a fight that was relentless from the first bell until the final bell. It was also the hardest night of her career, a fight she knew would secure her legacy. Shields and Marshall were fighting for all four middleweight belts, and they were each having just their 13th professional fight. Both, obviously, were unbeaten going in. The women’s game is an extraordinary platform, a place where there is nowhere to hide for the best boxers.
The Shields and Marshall fight was personal – made personal and urgent since that afternoon in May 2012 in China when a teenage Shields lost to Marshall. On Saturday night they fought with a desperation at times that turned their 10-round fight into an epic. They both knew long, long before the opening bell that the winner would have to go deeper into the savage and unforgiving places that the sport demands of its very best boxers. They took the journey together. And took it willingly.
The misleading narrative behind this fight was exposed early when Shields, the mover and boxer, had to stand and trade punches with Marshall, the puncher in the tale; the boxer was fighting and the puncher was having to box. They settled into a pattern of brilliance and defiance. They simply would not back down.
Shields was too slick and fast in the opening four or five rounds, but was often forced to stand and trade. Shields took the punches that 10 of Marshall’s previous 12 opponents could not. And Shields was ferocious with her own attacks when trapped in a corner or hustled back to the ropes. She mixed speed with guts, and Marshall matched her.
It looked like a long journey back for Marshall by the end of round five, but her persistence and refusal to back off transformed the fight and led to a standing chorus of hope from the capacity crowd in the second half.
In rounds six and seven, and possibly even eight and nine, Marshall was able to push Shields back and slam in shots to body and head. The crowd loved it, but Shields rolled, blocked and ducked her way carefully from trouble. Shields always rallied in the last 10 or so seconds, her fighting instincts simply refusing to let her close a round backed up and covering up. That is, trust me, old school – an ancient trick from the adored icons of the sport. Shields is now, surely, part of that cherished history.
The last round was relentless. The bell was nearly lost under the noise and then they separated; there was no cuddle or hug and smiles. That came a bit later. Shields won by two rounds on one scorecard and four rounds on the other two. There was no dispute and then there was respect, thankfully.
“The right woman won,” said Marshall. “I thought it was close.” It was certainly hard and competitive.
And Shields, sitting and cradling her belts, was finally respectful. “Marshall is a great fighter, so hard,” she said. Shields also dismissed a rematch; Marshall wants one.
Right now, in a female business that is thriving, Shields has run out of challengers and challenges in the boxing world. A winner and world champion now at light-middle, middle and super-middleweight, there are no rivals left. None, she has finished with the chasers. She might switch in and out of mixed martial arts and perhaps even take a look at the wrestling world. She has nothing left to prove in the boxing world – she has mastered that wondrous universe.
Marshall can take a break, which she will need, knowing that she pushed the finest female fighter of any generation all the way. It was raw at the O2 on Saturday, and it was a night of glorious history made by Claressa Shields, GWOAT.