|Claressa Shields and Ardreal Holmes are pictured with their gold medals at the 2015 USA Boxing National Championships in Spokane, Wash. in January 2015.
Claressa Shields saves her ducking and weaving for the boxing ring. Ask her a question, and you’ll get a straight right cross of honesty in return.
So, what are she and boyfriend (and fellow boxer) Ardreal Holmes planning for Valentine’s Day?
“Oh, we’re going to see ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ definitely,” Shields said, stifling a laugh. “That’s all I know. Ardreal has something else planned, but he won’t tell me what it is. So, I’m just kind of waiting for the surprise.”
The two 19-year-old Flint, Michigan, natives have dated for more than two years, but their relationship is still a surprise to some in the boxing world.
“We didn’t really put it out there,” said Shields, who won Olympic gold at the 2012 London Games at just 17 years of age. “It’s all over our Twitters and Instagrams, and people in our town know, but we didn’t talk about it too much. Until now.”
When the two are at the same meet, it’s all about their upcoming bouts. At home in Flint, they’re often at Shields’ gym, Bumper’s Bedrock Boxing Gym, donning protective head and body gear and sparring in the squared circle, under their coaches’ watchful eyes. Then, at night, they’ll cuddle up on the couch, watching favorite shows like “Empire.”
It’s an unconventional relationship, but one Shields says suits them just fine.
“We take our training very seriously,” she said. “When we spar each other, we don’t take it personally, if he hits me hard or if I hit him hard. We’re preparing each other for our opponents.”
The two have a lot to celebrate this Valentine’s Day. With victories at the 2015 USA Boxing Elite National Championships, held in Spokane, Washington, last month, they’ve both clinched berths at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. Both are ranked No. 1 in the United States in their weight classes, Shields as a middleweight, and Holmes as a welterweight. As reigning world and Olympic champion, Shields is also ranked No. 1 in the world.
“We have matching jackets and matching medals,” Shields said. “Going to Rio together (in 2016), that’s our dream.”
As far as Shields is concerned, having a boyfriend in the same sport is a big plus. In Spokane, they scouted each others’ opponents and helped map out strategies for their upcoming bouts.
“I’ll watch another guy box, and I know exactly what my boyfriend can handle, from his sparring with me,” she said. “I’ve been to the Olympics, I won the world championships, I know a lot about boxing. I’ll tell Ardreal, ‘This is what this guy does, you have to double jab him.’”
Shields isn’t bragging. Her ascent at such a young age has been extraordinary. At the AIBA Women’s World Boxing Championships in South Korea last year, she not only dominated her opponents — one threw in the white towel after just 11 seconds — but was also named “Outstanding Boxer of the Tournament.”
The two boxers have invested a lot in their relationship. It is one of the factors that led to Shields’ split with former trainer Jason Crutchfield, who guided her to Olympic gold. The two parted ways about a year ago. Shields is now coached by Leon Lawson.
“(Crutchfield) trained me since I was 11, and he trained Ardreal since he was 13 or 14,” Shields said. “Then as we got older, we dated, and (Crutchfield) didn’t like that. He thought it would throw me off focus. But I never lost. I still haven’t.”
These days, the sweethearts no longer train together every day but still spar and workout together frequently. Shields thinks it’s great motivation.
“Some days I might want to run three miles, but I’ll see him run five miles, so then I’ll want to run five,” she said. “We hit the bag together, and if I stop punching, he’ll say something. And if he stops, I’ll say something to him. Neither one of us wants to be the one to stop first.”
That competitiveness only extends to the training, though. They root for each other to rack up wins. Shields’ record is 54-1, her single loss — one she still disputes — coming in 2012. Holmes’ record stands at 53-11.
“He gets one more win, and we’ll be twins,” Shields said. “I just want to keep adding wins. We’re competitive in the gym, not as far as who has the most wins.”
About the biggest trouble in the relationship right now is deciding what and where to eat. Middleweight Shields doesn’t worry too much about her weight. As a welterweight, Holmes isn’t as lucky. So, Valentine’s Day dinner is likely to be calorie conscious.
“That is just horrible,” Shields said. “I fight at 165 and I walk around at 162. He walks around a few pounds over his fight weight. So he has to drop weight.
“It’s hard because I want to go out for pizza, but I try to mix it up and get a salad, just to give him more motivation. Sometimes, though, I just have to go eat something I want to eat.”
Lynn Rutherford is a sportswriter based out of New York. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.