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Call Marvel Comics, Claressa Hammers Hammer in Making Like Wonder Woman

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  • Call Marvel Comics, Claressa Hammers Hammer in Making Like Wonder Woman

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    By Bernard Fernandez

    ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Her effort was exemplary, but the superlatives that flowed like floodwaters after a dominant Claressa Shields fully unified the women’s middleweight boxing championship with a 10-round unanimous decision over Christina Hammer suggested that the two-time Olympic gold medalist from Flint, Mich., had suddenly risen to a place of singular achievement for a female fighter.

    Forget more realistic comparisons to such past women’s pugilistic icons as Lucia Rijker and Laila Ali. To hear her most ardent supporters tell it, Shields has taken on the persona of a comic-book superhero. Think Wonder Woman, or maybe Captain Marvel.

    “I think tonight’s fight will go down in the history books as an epic battle with the likes of Ali-Frazier, Leonard-Hearns and De La Hoya-Trinidad,” gushed Dmitriy Salita, president of Salita Promotions, whose enthusiasm ran wild when speaking about the emerging lead pony in his stable. “With this dominating and captivating performance, Claressa Shields is well on her way to being as revered as Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson, Serena Williams, Michael Jordan, Pele and others at the top of their game.”

    Also verbally genuflecting at the altar of Claressa was Mark Taffet, the former HBO executive who serves as her manager and one of her most ardent drum-beaters.

    “You saw tonight a performance for the ages,” Taffet said at the postfight press conference in Boardwalk Hall. “This is a night for history. It’s her-story. Claressa Shields dreamed it, she willed it and she brought it to the table. She set out to be undisputed and she did it faster (in just her ninth pro bout) than anyone in the history of the sport. And she’s just beginning on her journey.”

    Nor was the 23-year-old Shields (9-0, 2 KOs) inclined to aw-shucks her thorough thrashing of Hammer (24-1, 11 KOs) – two judges had her winning by 98-91 margins, the other by 98-92 -- as just another day at her roped-off office. She can preen and posture with the cockiest of her male counterparts, and after paying the briefest of lip service to her vanquished German opponent, whom she conceded has a decent jab, she went the full Ali in proclaiming herself at this early stage of her professional career as the female GOAT.

    “I thought I finished her in the eighth round. I thought I saw a white towel coming in the ring,” said Shields, who incorrectly believed that Hammer’s corner had surrendered prior to the beginning of the ninth round. “I was, like, `Oh, (crap). We got a knockout! I was so pumped. I thought the fight should have been stopped. She was holding on. She held me excessively. But I just told myself, `Stay cool, stay calm.’

    “I wanted to land the perfect punch to get her out of there. (The judges) said 98-92 (and 98-91, twice). Give me 100-90. Give me my credit, man. I beat her *** every round.

    “I am the greatest woman of all time!”

    But being recognized as the best female fighter ever, a matter of some debate despite Team Shields’ breathless proclamations, could possibly stunt Shields’ long-range plans as much as to advance them. Asked what kind of follow-up bout could possibly match or top her dismissal of the highly regarded Hammer, Shields, who weighed 159.4 pounds for the Showtime-televised main event, said she thought she could pare down to 154 for a clear-the-decks go at Norway’s Cecilia Braekhus (35-0, 9 KOs), the undisputed women’s welterweight champion, or bulk back up to super middleweight for a revenge clash with the United Kingdom’s Savannah Marshall (5-0, 3 KOs), who handed her the only loss of her career, amateur or pro, prior to the 2012 London Olympics.

    “I want to fight Cecilia Braekhus at 154,” said Shields, who not only added Hammer’s 160-pound WBO title to the IBF, WBC and WBA belts she already held, but was presented with The Ring magazine’s first women’s championship belt as well. “Bring it on, baby. That’s who I want next. If not her, give me Savannah Marshall. I’ll kill her.”

    What about a possible rematch with Hammer, 28, who had held titles in three different weight classes dating back to October 2010?

    “She was better than me,” Hammer conceded. “Sometimes s--- in boxing happens. But I am a champion and a champion for a long time. I will come back stronger.”

    But a do-over with Shields might prove a tough sell to the public after such a one-sided affair that most would presume would result in a repeat of the original. The gap between Hammer and Shields was never more evident than in round eight, when Shields likely would have scored a KO were it not for the two-minute rounds as currently mandated in women’s boxing.

    “Can we get three-minute rounds now?” wondered Shields, who on May 31 will receive the second annual Christy Martin Award as 2018’s Female Fighter of the Year from the Boxing Writers Association of America. “I think I proved (women) can do 10 rounds and two minutes a round, but in order for women to get knockouts, in order for women to get equal pay, we need 12 rounds and three minutes.”

    No doubt Shields struck a blow for gender equity, or for the narrowing of the gender inequity gap. But if she thinks she someday can command the kind of multimillion-dollar purses that routinely went or go to Mike Tyson, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Canelo Alvarez, that ain’t ever gonna happen. If she fights and pummels Braekhus as she did Hammer, an already shallow talent pool of possible opponents will get even more shallow, as likely victims will want to be compensated far more handsomely than the market is apt to bear. Maybe three-minute rounds will eventually happen, but Shields might soon discover that there is such a thing in boxing as a fighter being too good for his (or her) own good.

    The seven-bout card in the Adrian Phillips Ballroom at Boardwalk Hall featured another women’s world title bout, with Argentina’s Brenda Karen Carabajal (16-4-1, 9 KOs) claiming the vacant IBF featherweight belt with a 10-round unanimous decision over Russia’s Elena Gradinar (9-1, 2 KOs).

    There were three male heavyweight fights, two of which featured young up-and-comers and the other a grizzled former world champion who could be nearing the end of a long and mostly productive career.

    Jermaine Franklin (18-0, 13 KOs), the 25-year-old prospect from Saginaw, Mich., scored a 10-round, unanimous decision over veteran Rydell Booker (25-2, 12 KOs), of Detroit, the 38-year-old ex-con from Detroit who lost 13 years from his promising career after being found guilty of felony possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. Franklin might yet develop into the best young American heavyweight as projected by some, but Booker was no more than semi-impressed, saying, “He needs a lot of work. He stays too centered with his head. But he’s all right. What he has on his side is youth.”

    At least Franklin got in some needed work. Swedish southpaw Otto Wallin (20-0, 14 KOs), who was making his U.S. debut, never made it through the first round as he and Nick Kisner (21-4-1, 6 KOs), of Baltimore, inadvertently clashed heads early on in their scheduled 10-rounder. Kisner suffered a cut over his right eye that was deemed serious enough by the ring physician that a no-contest was declared. That had to be a disappointment for Wallin, who came as the fifth-ranked heavyweight in the world by both the IBF and WBA. “To me, (Kisner’s) cut didn’t look that bad,” said Wallin, 28. “It’s a shame because I trained really hard for this fight and was looking to put on a show for fans in America.”

    Samuel Peter (37-7, 30 KOs) briefly held the WBC heavyweight title, but that was many pounds and long ago. Now 38, the erstwhile “Nigerian Nightmare,” who resides in Las Vegas, had pared down from 330-plus pounds last September to the 259 he weighed for his scheduled 10-rounder against Mexican journeyman Mario Heredia (16-6-1, 13 KOs). Although Peter did score a second-round knockdown and was seven points up on one judge’s card, Heredia came away with the upset when the other two judges favored him by margins of 77-74 and 76-75. “I just came off a layoff,” said the disappointed Peter. “I need to go home, practice more and see if I can come back again.”

    In other bouts, super bantamweight Marcus Bates (9-1-1, 8 KOs), of Washington, D.C. scored the only TKO of the evening when Jesse Angel Hernandez 9-12-3, 7 KOs) did not come out for the fourth round of their scheduled eight-rounder, and Atlantic City middleweight Isiah Seldon (13-2-1, 4 KOs), son of former WBA heavyweight champ Bruce Seldon, overcame a first-round knockdown to post a six-round unanimous decision over Bryan Goldsby (5-10), of Macon, Ga.

    Photo credit: Stephanie Trapp / SHOWTIME

    Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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