Feb. 13, 2014
Claressa Shields to Face Rival Franchon Crews in Pro Debut
By Amy Green
Claressa Shields, women’s boxing two-time gold medal Olympian, will battle a familiar, as well as formidable foe in Franchon Crews on the Andre Ward/Sergey Kovalev undercard Saturday, at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Hopes are high for this bout, not only to see Shields test her mettle in the pro stakes, but to push women’s boxing yet further toward mainstream recognition. In advance of Shields’ debut, women’s boxing historian and author Malissa Smith offered an expert analysis on the bout, and its significance to the sport of women’s boxing.
The fight history between Shields and Crews dates back to February 2012, at the first female boxing Olympic trials, Malissa recalled.
“Claressa Shields and top seed USA Boxing National Champion Franchon Crews were introduced to each other’s fighting style in the ring, on day one of the first-ever female boxing Olympic Trials held on February 13, 2012.” she said. And it was the beginning of many a memorable occasion in the ring for Shields.
“At 16, Claressa Shields entered the double-elimination tournament as the Ringside Middleweight Champion, shocking everyone by muscling through to a 31-19 decision over the reigning champion Franchon Crews,” Malissa continued, and described how the rest of the tournament evolved.
“Shields plowed through the rest of the field to become the first United States female middleweight Olympian, while Crews lost a tough battle to Raquel Miller in the semifinal.”
What Shields accomplished during that win over Crews was to deliver her a loss that has had a lasting effect.
“If ever there was wake up call to the notion that boxing can break one’s heart,” Malissa said, “the hard powered, unstoppable hands of Claressa Shields certainly etched that story all over Franchon Crews during their first battle.” While that win paved the way for Claressa to make women’s boxing history at back to back Olympics in Rio and London, Crews instead went on to medal at the world championships in 2012 and 2016 in other weight classes.
Fast forward to Las Vegas, and the pros. Shields and Crews meet again, both with more experience under their belts, and a lot of expectations. Style wise both Shields and Crews will create an exciting four rounds as pros, Malissa said, and breaks down their fighting styles.
“Claressa Shields began boxing as an 11 year old,” Malissa stated. “Having grown up in the ring, she has developed exceptional boxing skills, and a strong boxer’s talent for finding the weaknesses in others.” Additionally, Shields fears no opponent. “She is also fearless in the ring and uses an explosive style that includes “punches in bunches” Malissa, continued. “as well as a full repertoire of pivots and defensive moves which she uses to taunt her opponents.” Crews she revealed, is rugged. “By contrast, Franchon Crews is a slugger. She battles forward and hard, and is not afraid to tie up her opponent or lunge forward with her overhand right or barrel in headfirst to gain an advantage,” she said. Experience is also in Crews corner. “With 15 national championships under her belt, plus extensive international experience across weight classes, Crews is formidable in the ring and will try to work to press Shields throughout the fight,” Malissa concluded.
Facing off as professionals, it remains to be seen if Shields will have the edge of amateur wins over Crews. This fight is far from a given, and both fighters will have to put in some hard work.
Mailssa believes Crews will be busy right away.
“Crews will work hard to establish dominance by pressuring Shields from the onset of the fight,” she said. “She will work her overhand right, use a fair number of body/head combinations and look to tie Shields up to prevent her from blasting from the outside.”
As for Shields, her advantage would be in keeping Crews from getting too set in her action. “Shields best bet is to motor on the outside to pick her shots and keep Crews off balance, before pushing in to throw body shots and her lethal straight rights,” she advised, and also, use her speed. “Shields will also look to use her quickness, agility and head movements to feint and work in her counter moves.”
Making adjustments to the pro game will also be a factor in this fight, and Malissa takes that into account.
“Given that this is the pro debut for both fighters, there will naturally be some nerves, as well as the shock of those first shots without helmets,” she said, but alluded to the promise of a good battle, with the skills that made both fighters champions on display. “If their 2014 female championship four-rounder is any indication, we can expect four very hard fought rounds,” Malissa said, “with both fighters seeking to gain dominance through a mixture of aggression, tactical skills, strong combinations, and in Crews’ case, by attempting to tie up Shields whenever she is in a seemingly dominant position.”
But Malissa doesn’t expect Shields to be idle or give in to any of Crews’ tactics. “Shields on the other hand will look to score a lot of points by throwing combinations, using her strong defensive skills to counter, and by never yielding ground.”
Overall, Malissa, expects assertive action from bell to bell between Shields and Crews
“This will be an aggressive hard fought battle with non-stop action from beginning to end,” she stressed, and maybe even a little rougher than the normal pro debut. “We can also expect they might wrestle a bit--Crews has been known to push an opponent across a ring and Shields is no stranger to the push either,” she said.
The bout is scheduled for 168 pounds, which is about 3 pounds above Shields usual weight, but Malissa sees no problems for either fighter at this number.
“Certainly not for Crews,” she said, “ who has fought and won championships at significantly higher weights; as for Shields, three pounds should not alter her game plan significantly.” Instead, what Malissa thinks will be a bit more of an issue will be no head gear and smaller gloves. “I think the bigger challenge for both will be boxing without a helmet and the use of smaller gloves,” she said, but that can also be a good thing for Shields. “This will be particularly helpful to Shields,” Malissa continued, “who is already fast- and I think she’ll feel as if she has “lightening in a bottle”! Even though Crews is tough and aggressive, the hard and fast Shields, armed with smaller gloves will be a force to be reckoned with. “Crews is no slouch, believe me, but Shields is a heavy hitter and those first blows to the head, will smart-especially when they come in so quickly.”
Claressa Shields and Franchon Crews is a major bout for women’s boxing, and Malissa explained why.
“In my opinion it is very important- especially if they put on a great showing, which they will,” she said … “and the fight will purportedly be on the “free” portion of the HBO program, which IF that happens will be REALLY big news for the sport.”
Malissa also acknowledged women’s boxing as a whole, and this event bringing fighters much deserved attention.
“There are a LOT of great women fighters out there, but they are invisible to American boxing fans. What this fight offers is the chance for a new generation of fans to see that female fighters have the same skills sets as their male counterparts and provide the same level of excitement—if not more because the shorter rounds mean end-to-end excitement.”
Who wins between Shields and Crews Saturday night? Malissa predicts two winners.
“ I’m picking Claressa Shields to win the decision in a close fought battle—but what I’m really picking is the win for the sport as a whole. I just hope I’m right on the latter!”