Ahead of their huge undisputed middleweight showdown at the O2 Arena this weekend, Claressa Shields and Savannah Marshall engaged in several verbal exchanges at an amusing fight week press conference in the capital on Thursday. The conference also saw several back-and-forths between promoter Ben Shalom, Dmitry Salita and Peter Fury as tensions continue to grow just two days out from fight night.
Sky Sports‘ Adam Smith and BOXXER‘s Shalom got the introductory remarks out of the way before attention turned to the three-weight world champion Shields, who made sure to emphasise the experience she has under her belt as a pro so far. “I know that this isn’t my first undisputed fight, this isn’t my first time in having a very hard training camp in being the underdog. I’ve done this numerous times and I’ve come out on top every time. It’s gonna feel good to quiet all the doubters about [her] knockout power and the lack of my skill and the lack of my accomplishments or whatever the case may be“.
The American then poked fun at her adversary, accusing her of clinging onto Marshall’s victory over Shields in the amateur code a decade ago in what remains Shields’ only defeat in the sport to date. “I’ve never seen something like this in boxing…someone who lives off an amateur win for ten years, god…sometimes I think about it and I’m like, it’s like they’re trying to erase everything I’ve done in the past ten years because I have been dominant in boxing for a decade, since I was seventeen. I didn’t win the Olympics and then just have a terrible career. I won the Olympics, I won it again, I turned pro, I won titles and wow, that’s still not enough for you guys, okay. I’m here to fight against who the UK considers the best and show you guys that I am a very special talent and I was born to do this“.
On the support Marshall has received so far in the run-up to the fight, Shields was bemused at how she’s been painted as the enemy between the pair. “People write out narratives and try to paint me out to be the villain because I’m more vocal, but I’ve ran into Savannah Marshall plenty of times and I’ve always been cordial, but how can you be cordial with someone who tells you they’re gonna knock you out in two rounds and try to discredit me, that’s where it all started“.
The American even found time to mimic Marshall from when the pair clashed ringside in Cardiff following Shields’ UK debut versus Ema Kozin. “She’s the one ringside talking like ‘if you fight that way against me imma wipe the floor with you’. What the heck? (laughs) It caught me so off-guard because it was like, I would never say that to somebody after they fought. It was no respect from her, but everybody wants me to accept that“.
The mic then turned the way of the Hartlepool fighter as Marshall again emphasised the respect she has from the woman she’ll face in the ring on Saturday night. “Of course I have respect for Claressa. I’ve always had respect for Claressa. What she doesn’t like is that I’ve got an opinion, I sat and watched her box in Cardiff [against Kozin] and I thought it was diabolical. She didn’t like that I told her that, that’s what she got upset over“.
“She rammed down people’s throats that she was this, she was that, that we were going to see this spectacular knockout. I sat there for ten rounds, drifted off and we didn’t see nothing“. Shields interrupted asking for clarification on whether she was in fact going to win via knockout, a question which drew an emphatic response from the Brit. “I’ve been asked this for the past twelve weeks and I’ve never once said I’m gonna knock you out, I said I’m gonna hurt you and I will. We’ll see when you wake up on the canvas and we’ll see then“.
That marked the start of several entertaining exchanges between the pair, with the Michigan fighter making light of Marshall’s achievements in the pros so far. “I don’t know why you think you’re so big and so strong but you’re not. All this facade, you knocking out these bums, I’m sorry but it’s not even fazing me, it’s actually comical. And you know what, you will be a fool to come in there and stand in my face in a boxing ring, your best is to try and box and move. You stand there with me, you’re gonna be the one going to sleep“.
That final line drew a laugh from the Brit who responded “Claressa, twelve lasses stood there with you, Ema Kozin stood there with you, Hannah Rankin stood there with you, Femke Hermans stood there with you. Jesus, we haven’t seen nowt difference in twelve fights, I’ll be impressed if you do something different”. “I put in eleven weeks for this camp just to show you“, bragged Shields. “I put in twelve” said Marshall in return, drawing laughter from the room.
The ‘GWOAT’ chain dangling from the American’s neck then became the subject of attention as Shields offered it up to Marshall if she emerged victorious on Saturday night. “You’ve been hating on my chain, but I bet you this chain that you don’t win the fight“, only to draw “oh no, thank you. I’ll just take the belts, I don’t want that” was the comical return from Marshall.
It was then the Brit’s turn to mimic her opponent as she bellowed “Hey, where’s your gold medals at? You want this chain, you want these belts?” in an American accent. The impression drew smiles from everyone at the top table and laughter from the audience as the personalities of both fighters continued to shine through in front of the cameras.
“You’re nothing but a bully, that’s what you are”, said Marshall. Shocked, Shields returned “I’m a bully? That’s the first time I’ve ever heard that one. I’m confident, you lack confidence, and always have and always will“.
Adam Smith then asked Marshall exactly what it will mean to her if she was to become the undisputed middleweight champion this weekend. “It’ll mean everything“, said Marshall. “All the blood, sweat and tears, everything I’ve went through, it’ll all be worthwhile“.
Questions were then put to the teams, with Dmitry Salita and Mark Taffet on the side of Shields while Peter Fury and Ben Shalom represented Marshall. “If you know anything about Claressa Shields, then you’ll know that life has been the biggest fight of her life. Boxing is what she does, but life has been her biggest challenge“, said Taffet. Salita echoed these sentiments, “Claressa has made history in every one of her fights, she fought for a world title in her fourth fight, she’s fought Hannah Gabriel, Christina Hammer, some of the biggest and best fights leading up to this. Savannah Marshall has fought opponents“.
Marshall’s trainer Peter Fury, in his typical no-nonsense fashion, kept things simple. “I’ve listened to a lot of crap in this build-up, I’ve listened to a lot of positive stuff, the way everything’s speaking here now, me and Savannah may as well get our suitcases and run home. Savannah’s fought opponents? [in response to Salita’s comments], Savannah’s fought one or two people Claressa’s thought and dispatched them. I’ll give Claressa all the credit in the world, coming over to London to prove she’s the best, this is what real world champions do. Is Savannah the best fighter she’s ever been in the ring with? Yes she is. Is that going to be Saturday? Yes that’s going to be the case”.
Salita jumped back in to question Fury’s comments on Marshall being Shields’ best opponent to date before Shalom described what he was saying as “absolute rubbish“. “Savannah’s never fought anybody close to Claressa’s levels, she’s looked very good with your help [to Fury] but there’s levels to this. Claressa is a different climate“. Fury’s response was firm. “When I come to listen to what opposition says, when Savannah comes to listen to what opposition says, pack it up and leave because never let anybody put you down. Everybody’s got a pair of arms and a pair of legs, let’s see on Saturday night“.
Ben Shalom then spoke up, pointing out Marshall’s stoppage wins against opponents Shields has gone the distance with, painting himself as a target for Shields herself. “You want me to go to Boxrec and read off her opponent’s records? Don’t talk like I ain’t no big puncher because I am, and you’re gonna find that out Saturday. Clearly you don’t respect me either because of how you was talking shit after I beat up Ema Kozin. Anybody can knockout tomato cans and bums, you can’t knockout world champions“.
Fury comically responded by questioning the level of the rest of the division. “I think that everybody in the division that both of them have fought are crap, and that’s why they’re both here. These are the only two diamonds in a sack of shit, so let’s not say we fought this, we fought that, because they’re all no good. These are two elite fighters, let’s see who the best is in the division because there’s nobody else in it“.
One thing that is for certain is that we are set for fireworks on Saturday night ahead of one of the most anticipated fights of the year and one of the biggest in women’s boxing history.