Olympic Champ Claressa Shields Highlights Team USA Women's Boxing World Hopes

By Brian Trusdell | Nov. 15, 2014, 4:14 p.m. (ET)
Claressa Shields exchanges punches with Nadezda Torlopova (left) of Russia during the women's middleweight (75 kg) boxing final bout at the London 2012 Olympic Games on Aug. 9, 2012 in London.

Every notable boxing match has at least some similar characteristics: nicknames, a grudge match, revenge, trash talking.

The AIBA Women's World Boxing Championships starting Sunday may not have a bout with the same cache as Ali-Frazier, with the “Thrilla in Manilla” or “The Louisville Lip” and “Smokin' Joe,” but many are hoping for a middleweight rematch between reigning Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields of the United States and defending world champion Savannah “The Silent Assassin” Marshall of Britain.

The tournament in Jeju, South Korea, features 337 women from 74 nations competing in 10 weight classes, but a potential Shields-Marshall match is one that stands out.

The 19-year-old Shields leads a 10-woman U.S. squad and will be looking to avenge her second-round upset loss to Marshall at the 2012 world championships. The loss was the only one in Shields' amateur career, and it's the kind of story that can elevate the profile of a sport that often struggles for attention.

The potential clash that has drawn a jibe from Marshall, who two weeks ago was quoted in The Guardian as calling the Flint, Michigan, native “a livewire” and suggesting that she is in Shields’ head.

“I don’t even give her a thought,” Marshall said. “It’s me that’s playing on her mind, and she’s just going to be losing sleep over it.”

Christy Halbert, the U.S. coach at the first women’s world championships in 2001 when they were held in Scranton, Pennsylvania, said the field is much deeper than those marquee names.

“In this world championships, there are more countries entered than in 2012,” Halbert said. “The number of boxers and countries, every two years, gets bigger and bigger. What's really a surprise is this is not an Olympic qualifying year.”

Halbert, a former professional who was undefeated in five bouts, is in South Korea as a coach with 30 boxers from 22 different countries.

While not a qualifier for the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016, the Jeju championships are one of the first steps in the climb.

The Olympic Games award gold medals in only three weight classes for women: flyweight (51 kg/112 pounds), lightweight (60 kg/132 pounds) and middleweight (75 kg/165 pounds).

The world championships will award titles from light flyweight (48 kg/106 pounds) to heavyweight (over 81 kg/179 pounds).

The Jeju competition will allow boxers to evaluate their relative levels and help them decide if they want to try to change weight classes in an attempt to make the Games, Halbert said.

Regardless, the Americans come into the championships with hopes for several medals.

Marlen Esparza
Marlen Esparza competes against Karlha Magliocco (R) of Venezuela during the women's flyweight (51 kg) boxing quarterfinals at the London 2012 Olympic Games at ExCeL on Aug. 6, 2012 in London.

Besides Shields, Team USA also has Olympic flyweight bronze medalist Marlen Esparza, a 25-year-old Houston native competing in her fifth world championships.

With women's boxing making its Olympic debut in London, Shields and Esparza prevented a U.S. shutout in the sport as the men failed to win any medal for the first time.

Additionally, Tiara Brown is back to defend her world title in the featherweight (57-kg/ 126-pound) division, a non-Olympic weight, and Christina Cruz, who won a bronze medal at the 2012 worlds, is looking to improve in the bantamweight (54-kg/119-pound) category.

Two-time defending U.S. champion Alex Love in the bantamweight class is competing in her second world championships after losing in the second round in 2012 to eventual bronze medalist Nazym Kyzaibay of Kazakhstan. A private in the U.S. Army, Love is a member of the military's World Class Athlete Program (WCAP).

Queen Underwood, an eight-time U.S. champion, was a bronze medalist at the 2010 world championships and lost in the first round at the 2012 Olympic Games in the lightweight division (60 kg/132 pounds).

Besides Shields in the higher weights, Team USA has Destiny Chearino at light welterweight (64 kg/141 pounds), Danyelle Wolf — featured in this year's ESPN The Magazine “Body Issue” at welterweight (69 kg/152 pounds), Heidi Henriksen at light heavyweight (81 kg/178 pounds) and Krystal Dixon at heavyweight.

With the performance of the U.S. men in London, the best American hopes for medals in Rio in boxing may rest with the women.

“These world championships are extremely important,” Halbert said. “It's an opportunity for boxers worldwide to see where they stand. It's an opportunity for countries to see the benefits of boxing for women and to see the medal opportunities they have in their own continental games, world games and Olympic Games.” 

Brian Trusdell has covered four FIFA World Cups and six Olympic Games during his more than 30 years as a sportswriter, mostly with the Associated Press and Bloomberg News. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.