Boxing rings and comic books have both been historically fertile breeding grounds for superheroines, otherwise unassuming women who change into costumes of varying degrees of extravagance and adopt an alter ego to fight for truth and justice as well as respectability and title belts. For every Invisible Woman, Storm, Scarlet Witch, She-Hulk, and Batgirl there is a Mighty Atom of the Ring, Lady Tyger, Coalminer’s Daughter, Dutch Destroyer, and Bray Bomber.
Unlike their fictional counterparts, boxers are by no means required to conceal a secret identity. Their ring monikers signify a heightened reality of their true inner selves and, therefore, the two are not intended to be mutually exclusive but openly celebrated as one and the same. This is a win/win scenario for someone like Claressa Shields, for example, who can’t help but indulge a Muhammad Ali-like flair for self-promotion at every opportunity. And well she should, with everything she has accomplished before turning twenty-six in only a matter of days.
DC Comics has introduced generations of readers to multiple iterations of Superwoman throughout the past eight decades. Beginning as a mere medically-induced fantasy of the lovestruck Lois Lane in Action Comics #60 (April 1943) which trivializes the concept of an empowered female, the character would eventually gain traction appreciable enough to be considered worthy of her name, although it took a regrettable amount of time to get there. Serving as a pop-culture representation of the exact same struggle that has been and still is undergone by women boxers, this painfully glacial progress toward becoming unglued from marginalization as a trite novelty or silly stereotype subservient to male peers is a direct through-line to our analogy connecting prizefighters to caped crusaders.
One of the more intriguing reprisals of Superwoman occurred in 1964 when DC introduced the Crime Syndicate of America, featuring alternate rogues gallery-type versions of the Justice League. Outfitted in all black rather than the customary red and blue, a villainous, almost dominatrix-like Lois Lane was cast as the Crime Syndicate’s Superwoman to act as a foil to the most iconic female superhero of all.
Wonder Woman celebrates her 80th anniversary this October, having debuted in the pages of 1941’s All-Star Comics #8. The following January came Wonder Woman’s first appearance on the cover of a comic book when Sensation Comics premiered on newsstands, and later that year the Amazon warrior princess Diana, who was bestowed extraordinary powers by the Greek gods, was given her own quarterly title. In the Fall 1942 issue, the second in the original volume of her stand-alone run, Wonder Woman is depicted wearing boxing gloves and form-fitting blue star-spangled trunks inside a roped-off ring in the panels of an ambitious story entitled “The God of War.” One of the challenges she must endure to rescue her confidante and paramour Steve Trevor from the clutches of Mars, the titular deity in question, is doing battle with Mammotha, a giant-sized goon in the employ of Mussolini. After a titanic back and forth struggle, Diana puts Mammotha down for a ten-count with a walloping right uppercut which allows her to proceed with conquering Mars and saving Steve.
To bring this conversation full-circle, three-division world champion and recently elected International Boxing Hall of Famer Ann Wolfe was chosen to make a cameo appearance as Artemis in the 2017 feature film version of Wonder Woman. Wolfe’s Artemis is scripted and portrayed as a high-ranking gladiator who trains Diana in the movie whereas in the comics, she is a prominent member of an outlaw splinter-group of Amazons who Wonder Woman doesn’t encounter until much later. But, I digress. The point is, whether it is in a comic book or boxing ring or any place of her choosing, a woman has the undeniable right to be as badass as she wants to be.
In her novel Parable of the Talents, science fiction writer Octavia Butler expresses a sort of variation on this same theme much more eloquently. “Self is. Self is body and bodily perception. Self is thought, memory, belief. Self destroys. Self learns, discovers, becomes. Self shapes. Self adapts. Self invents its own reasons for being.”
Not dissimilar from little Diana’s journey toward taking on the estimable role of Wonder Woman for the good of the world beyond Paradise Island, Claressa Shields transformed herself from a meek girl from a broken home in a rough neighborhood of Flint, Michigan who, due to the impact of childhood traumas, did not start to speak until she was past the age of five—and with an inhibiting stutter for several years thereafter—into an authoritative, imposing, and outspoken household name in the sporting world known as ‘T-Rex’ who became the first boxer of either gender to not only earn gold medals in consecutive Olympic games, but win world titles in three weight classes within ten professional fights.
Also, consider if you will Claressa’s amateur teammate Jamie Mitchell whose personal history is as heartbreaking as they come. Mitchell never knew her father and was abandoned by her drug-addicted mother when she was just ten days old. Placed with a terrifying foster family who routinely starved her, Jamie had her arm forcibly broken before she had turned six which finally forced authorities to intercede on her behalf and remove her from the premises. She was subsequently bounced around dozens of times within the foster system before finally finding a welcome home away from home in boxing gyms where stability and self-confidence were nurtured within her by mentors like Eddie Mustafa Muhammad. Thirty years later she is not only an abuse survivor but a loving mother and, having been inspired by Ann Wolfe, Muhammad Ali, and Mike Tyson, an undefeated professional prizefighter who rightfully refers to herself as ‘Miracle.’
Those sure sounds a lot to me like superhero origin stories. Friday evening, new chapters were written into their thrilling sagas. And more too, for good measure.
With the capacity to accommodate 6,000 spectators under normal circumstances, Flint’s Dort Federal Events Center permitted only 375 ticket-holders inside to witness Friday night’s event to stay in compliance with Covid-related CDC guidelines. The all-female card (one men’s bout, a third-round TKO victory for Timur Kerefov over Manny Woods, was streamed during the pre-show segment) was opened by Marlen Esparza, the first American woman to both qualify for and medal at the 2012 London Olympics where she earned the bronze at flyweight. Shortly after being eliminated by Virginia Fuchs at the 2016 Olympic Trials, Esparza signed with Golden Boy Promotions and turned pro. Marlen won her first seven bouts before tasting defeat at the hands of her personal adversary Seneisa Estrada in 2019 when she suffered a grisly cut as the result of a headbutt and was well behind on the cards at the time of the stoppage on the order of the ringside physician in the ninth round. She rebounded from this setback with a unanimous decision win over then-undefeated Sulem Urbina last October.
Eager to take part in this historic event, Esparza took a six-round bantamweight fight against Shelly Barnett on ten days’ notice despite the fact that Oscar De La Hoya is currently negotiating an April date for her to challenge WBC world flyweight champion Isbeth Zamora. A 37-year-old Chicagoan by way of Toronto, Barnett debuted professionally in 2017 after only two amateur bouts and went unbeaten in her first six contests (drawing twice), but is now winless in her last four after losing a lopsided decision to Esparza in the ‘Superwomen’ show opener. The curtain-jerking bout originally scheduled between undefeated middleweight Logan Holler and Schemelle Baldwin (3-1-2) was nixed at the zero hour when Baldwin was sidelined by an unspecified illness.
Marlen surprised the typically aggressive Barnett by starting at a quick pace then kept her guessing by alternating the tempo throughout the fight. Esparza also varied her punch selection, landing cleanly to the head while making a concerted effort to work over Barnett’s midsection. Rapidly doubling up on her left hook, Marlen would follow up sneaky liver shots with jarring blows upstairs. The effects were telling, as Barnett slowed down considerably in the middle rounds and displayed a sizable abrasion on her left cheek. A composed, determined Esparza exhibited the sort of masterful ring generalship that is the product of a lengthy amateur pedigree and cruised to victory by outlanding Barnett 126-49, 101 of those being power punches.
The six-rounder pitting Jamie ‘Miracle’ Mitchell against seasoned nine-year veteran Noemi Bosques was another late addition to the ‘Superwomen’ card. Bosques was supposed to have participated on a March 19 show in her home state of Florida, but jumped at the chance to travel to Flint for this HERstoric event. Mitchell was stepping between the ropes for the first time in nineteen months, since fighting to a disputed majority draw with Britain Hart in August 2019. As mentioned earlier, Jamie had been a valued member of Team USA, scrapping her way to the finals of the 2012 National Championships but losing to Christina Cruz who also beat Mitchell in the 2014 National semi-finals. Having joined the paid ranks in 2017, Jamie remains unbeaten as a professional after stopping Bosques in the penultimate frame on Friday evening.
Mitchell’s work rate was simply too much for the clearly overmatched Bosques. She walked Bosques down from the outset behind double and triple jabs which she used as a calling card to introduce Noemi to a succession of right crosses and body blows. A Mitchell left hook just prior to the bell at the end of round four moved Noemi halfway across the ring and she kept up the pace when action resumed in the next stanza, rocking Bosques with a series of blows which caused her to lose her footing and hit the mat. Referee Gerard White ruled this a slip but would wave the fight off moments later as Noemi appeared defenseless under heavy fire.
“I’m world title material. The world just needs to know,” said Mitchell, whose 40% connect rate was highlighted by an advantage of 80-20 in the power punch category against Bosques. After last night it is clear, per her wish, that the world needs to take notice of, and give proper consideration to, the ‘Miracle’ that is Jamie Mitchell.
In a rematch of their four-round Kronk Gym war last August, Danielle Perkins worked the ‘Superwomen’ co-main event opposite Monika Harrison. When she was struck by a vehicle while living in Brooklyn in 2008, resulting in temporary paralysis which ended her European professional basketball career, Perkins discovered a passion for boxing while doing her rehabilitation at Gleason’s Gym. Now a Houston-based stablemate of Marlen Esparza, Danielle retained her status as an undefeated heavyweight on Friday night and claimed the WBC Silver championship belt in the process of shutting out Harrison.
The six-foot-tall Perkins was all too happy to oblige the plodding, flat-footed Harrison who repeatedly lunged forward in a straight line by peppering her with combinations and employing lateral movement to easily telegraph and evade Monika’s errant attacks. Danielle’s exemplary footwork is no doubt a motor response to skills developed during her days playing hoops. At one point in the second round, Harrison curiously retreated away from Perkins and backed herself against the ring ropes with both gloves held tight to either side of her head, fortunate to have escaped with minimal damage. A straight left from Perkins not long before the bell at the end of the fifth round caused Harrison to drop her hands. Danielle followed up with a body shot and left hook to the head which might have been the beginning of the end for Harrison had the round been three minutes in duration rather than two.
Monika made another costly blunder in the sixth when, unmindful of the directive to protect yourself at all times, she let down her guard to conduct a mid-round conference with referee Michael Griffin about some perceived infraction only to eat a flurry of Perkins’ punches as a penalty for her miscalculation. Perkins sidestepped Harrison in the opening moments of the seventh, spun her around, and let loose with a multi-punch combination but, to her credit, Monika weathered the storm and finished the fight on her feet even if she lost to Perkins by an across-the-board 80-72 shutout. Danielle outlanded Harrison by a margin of almost 100 total punches and considered this performance a stepping stone toward becoming the undisputed heavyweight champion.
Speaking of undisputed champions, Claressa Shields made history yet again Friday night. Not only by headlining the first-ever all-female pay-per-view boxing show, but adding another phenomenal accolade to her growing resume by becoming the only fighter, male or female, to consolidate the world titles in two weight classes since the dawning of the four-belt era, which refers to the quartet of officially recognized alphabet organizations (WBC, WBA, IBF, and WBO). It’s simply impossible not to like Marie Eve Dicaire on a personal level, as good-natured and happy-go-lucky as she always seems to be. Unfortunately for Dicaire, prizefights are won through tenacity and not congeniality as she found out the hard way against an extraordinarily deliberate and methodical counterpunching Claressa Shields who exhibited a stylistic maturity we had not seen from her to this point in breaking Marie Eve down little by little.
Having faced only one other southpaw in her pro career thus far, Claressa clearly worked with her trainer John David Jackson on foot placement to a diligent degree, avoiding entanglements that are usually obligatory when an orthodox fighter squares up with a lefty. Shields also maintained her poise in spite of Dicaire’s occasional headbutts and flying elbows, not to mention the Canadian’s uniquely hippity-hoppity footwork which served as a serious liability to Marie Eve in that she could not sit down on her punches and land anything of consequence. When, that is, she was able to connect at all. Which was very seldom.
Dicaire applauded while Claressa had her hand raised and took possession of Marie Eve’s IBF super-welterweight title belt at center ring, completing her collection in that division along with the also newly-acquired WBA strap which is something that necessitates further comment in just a moment. Shields basked briefly in the significance of the occasion which took place in front of fewer than 400 fans from her hometown and an as-yet unknown number of home viewers who paid $29.95 for the privilege of witnessing the momentous event before name-dropping two potential future opponents.
As much as the mere mention of a dream match between Claressa and Katie Taylor might fuel the fire of click-bait headlines and social media debates, it is not realistic at the end of the day. Why either of them would want to risk meeting in the middle at a disadvantageous catchweight for a lucrative payday and pound-for-pound bragging rights is beyond me, but stranger things have happened. Shields stated as much when pressed on the matter during her post-fight interview, declaring that no less than $1 million would be worth the trouble of cutting down to 147 pounds and losing her “nice butt” in the bargain. Which begs the question, what is left for Claressa to achieve in boxing after she experiments with grappling inside an MMA octagon in June as her agenda calls for?
If you have ever flipped through a comic book or watched a Marvel or DC movie, you are well aware that a superhero is only as good as his or her arch-rival makes them. Think Batman and The Joker, Superman and Lex Luthor, Captain America and Red Skull…you get the picture. As if you couldn’t guess from the profanity-laced tirade Claressa Shields directed at her on Friday night, Savannah Marshall is her main nemesis. Although Shields went on to win the gold medal at the London Olympics in 2012, she had to overcome being beaten by Marshall in the second round of the World Championships that same year just to get there. While letting the f-bombs fly as casually as she had lobbed right hooks at Marie Eve Dicaire just twenty minutes earlier, Claressa belittled Marshall’s victory over her nine years ago as a “lucky decision” and made it crystal clear to Eddie Hearn that he would have to do far better than what she called a “weak-ass” offer of $250,000 for permitting her the opportunity to “fuck his girl up.”
Before that, though, there is the matter of Hanna Gabriels to discuss. Gabriels, who made Claressa work for her victory in their 2018 middleweight title fight in Detroit by flooring Shields in the first round with a right uppercut that sent the champion’s mouthpiece skittering across the canvas, has held the WBA super-welterweight championship since 2016 when she knocked out Katia Alvarino in the third round to claim the vacant belt. The WBA recently informed Hanna that she was essentially being demoted to “Regular” champion so that the organization could offer up the title of “Super” champion to the winner of Friday’s main event between Shields and Dicaire which wouldn’t otherwise have been a unification bout.
The right thing to do, of course, would be for the WBA to immediately mandate a showdown between Shields and Gabriels with legitimate ownership of the undisputed world super-welterweight crown to be determined for good and all. But, entirely too often the right thing is precisely what is not done by the boxing community which insists on blackening its own eyes at nearly every turn despite being given the benefit of the doubt more times that it has proven it deserves.
Just like in the comics, boxing is rich with heroes, anti-heroes, supervillains, and criminal masterminds. Claressa Shields declared herself the “Floyd Mayweather of women’s boxing” in the lengthy preamble to Friday night’s unification fight, proving once more how comfortable the self-described GWOAT (Greatest Woman Of All Time) is blurring the fine line between fan favorite and heel. Whether people are singing her praises or cursing her existence, what seems to be of utmost importance is that her name is never far from their lips.