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Claressa Shields: Boxing, being a role model, and belting it out

Claressa "T-Rex" Shields talks about women's boxing, misconceptions, being a role model, and her life since turning pro.

It’s no secret that Claressa “T-Rex” Shields is changing the face of women’s boxing. After winning her first of two Olympic Gold medals at the age of 17 in 2012, winning two world titles just four fights into her professional career, and becoming the first female fighter to head the main event on Showtime, Shields has proved that she’s coming up and coming up fast.

And she’s not even close to finished. Shields defends her title against Tori Nelson on Jan. 12 in New York, which will also be featured on Showtime and told The Fight Guys that she feels like she has to do more for the sport of women’s boxing — which, to her, means becoming and maintaining international recognition in the professional ranks.

“There are a lot of difficulties, especially in women’s boxing. Right now, we don’t get equally paid, we don’t get the same amount of TV-time and we don’t get the recognition. So that’s something that I’m trying to get to be even or get it as close to even as I can,” Shields said. “Out of all of the great women that we’ve had in the sport of boxing — Leila Ali, Christy Martin, Lucia Rijker — I’m the first woman, in 2017, to fight on [a] big platform [like Showtime].”

Shields said she would like to see women who are at the top of the amateur ranks turn professional, but until then, she’s doing her best to break down as many barriers as possible. Thankfully, Shields isn’t one to feel the pressure of changing the face of women’s boxing. Instead, she said that she’s very aware that she needs to perform at her highest level.

“I think that I don’t really carry a whole lot of pressure. I just think that, with me carrying the sport, I have to look good every fight, l have to be in shape, I can’t get dropped or have a bad round. So, I have to take those things into account and I train really, really hard,” she said.

I think that I don’t really carry a whole lot of pressure. I just think that, with me carrying the sport, I have to look good every fight, l have to be in shape, I can’t get dropped or have a bad round. So, I have to take those things into account and I train really, really hard.” -Claressa Shields

That lack of pressure is likely because boxing is integral to Shields, so integral that she wasn’t exactly sure what her life would be like if she never started training at the young age of 11. She laughed and guessed that she’d be very angry and possibly in jail.

“Boxing is the way that I relieve stress. Boxing is what makes me internally happy, I could just have boxing in my life without the money without the fame and I would still be happy. I could just have the gym and I would still be happy,” she explained. “Boxing is what makes me happy on a bad day. Everything in the world could be going wrong but as long as I could get to a gym and punch a bag, I’m alright.”

Still, Shields acknowledges that taking her love of boxing to the professional ranks in 2016 has changed a lot; for good reason. In only four professional fights, Shields has claimed the IBF and WBC female super middleweight titles and gathered quite a following. Though she was used to the public eye as an Olympic champion, Shields now finds herself easily recognized and often asked for pictures — especially at other boxing events.

Everything in the world could be going wrong but as long as I could get to a gym and punch a bag, I’m alright.” -Claressa Shields

“Everywhere I go now, even if I’m not fighting, whenever I go to — let’s say I go to a weigh-in or I go to [another person's] fight — it’s like I’m the person that’s fighting, I’m the main event when I’m just in the crowd. It’s like the whole stadium wants pictures and they want autographs and I spend the whole night taking pictures,” she said.

Overall, Shields said that the pictures and autographs make her happy because they mean “your career is going in the right direction.”

“Especially,” she said, “when you see a little girl from across the stadium and she’s star-struck and she’s looking at you and she gets sad because she’s like ‘I’m not going to be able to get over there and take a picture.’ And, you know, me being who I am, I get up and walk over there and she gets so excited to take a picture. A picture means everything to a lot of people.”

Shields does more for youth than just take pictures. Knowing what impact boxing has had on her life, she works with Up2Us, a charity organization that helps train coaches to use sports to improve communities and help young people succeed. Shields said the program reminds her of the relationship she has with Jason Crutchfield, her trainer, who she says gave her valuable advice in and out of the ring. She wants to help other coaches, who she said are more like life advisers, use sports to help young people.

“Sports can definitely help [young] athletes keep their life on track. It can help them give their life a direction,” she said. “Sports teach you more than just winning. [They] teach you about discipline. [They] teach you how to lose. Because after you lose one game — you still got a lot of games left and then you build character.”

“Sports teach you more than just winning. It teaches you about discipline. It teaches you how to lose. Because after you lose one game — you still got a lot of games left and then you build character.” -Claressa Shields

While Shields continues her career and tries to set the best example in doing so, there’s one thing she wants to be understood by those looking to her as a role model: she’s human.

“Nobody is perfect. I think there’s a lot of celebrities that try to put that kind of image out there but nobody is perfect. Everybody makes mistakes and everybody has emotions,” she said. “I try to also let that be known. Even though you got a role model, role models are real people. We also have our bad times where we get sensitive about certain things or get angry. So, I do try to do the right things but sometimes you know emotions kind of get in the way.”

But perhaps the multi-dimensional qualities of people, even those in the spotlight, is a lesson that only someone like Shields can teach. After all, as she waits on the frontline of boxing’s battlegrounds she’s fighting more than just opponents — she’s fighting stereotypes about female fighters.

“I’ll never be pretty inside the ring or, I don’t know, ‘nice’ but you have to understand outside of the ring …” she paused. “It’s two different people and once you understand then you will be able to accept that women are fighters.”

“I’ll never be pretty inside the ring or, I don’t know, ‘nice’ but you have to understand outside of the ring … It’s two different people and once you understand then you will be able to accept that women are fighters.” -Claressa Shields

Outside of the ring, Shields said that karaoke is her go-to activity, right before bowling. The last song she remembers singing? “Rockstar 101” by Rihanna, a coincidentally good fit if Shields is looking for a new entrance song as she continues to fight for herself, and her sport, one match at a time.

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