By Noah Trister, AP Sports Writer
DETROIT (AP) – In only her second fight as a professional, Claressa Shields is set to make history.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist will become the first woman to headline a fight card on premium cable when she faces Szilvia Szabados on Friday night on Showtime. After making a name for herself with her Olympic achievements, the 21-year-old Shields is eager to become the type of star women’s boxing could certainly use.
“I’m definitely carrying women’s boxing right now. I’m the one with the torch,” she said recently. “I’m the one that — whenever I say something, everybody respects it, and it’s the truth.”
Chatty, engaging and a bit cocky, Shields is the type of fighter who could be a marketing dream for a sport that needs one. The Flint native comes from a state with plenty of boxing history, and after winning gold in London and Rio , she turned pro.
“I think there are so many great, good women that came up before me, but I always said to myself as an amateur, in order for women’s boxing to actually grow and to be given any respect, I said I felt like I had to go pro,” she said.
There also wasn’t much left to accomplish at the amateur level.
“It was a big decision, but I felt like it was time,” she said. “I know that going back to the Olympics was an easy feat for me. I’ve been there before, I’ve done it before. I don’t really see any competition in the amateurs, even now. I still keep up with the girls … none of the girls at 165 can do anything with me.”
Shields made her pro debut in November on the undercard of the Andre Ward-Sergey Kovalev light heavyweight title fight in Las Vegas. She won a decision over Franchon Crews in a four-round super middleweight fight.
Friday’s six-round fight against Szabados (15-8) will be for the women’s NABF middleweight championship, and it will take place at Detroit’s MGM Grand — a chance for Shields to fight in her home state.
“I haven’t fought near home in a lot of years, so to have the fight here in Detroit and also being the main event, it feels great to have my city coming out and to have Detroit and Pontiac and Lansing and everybody coming out to the fight,” Shields said. “It’s a big deal.”
Shields said Szabados, of Hungary, is a strong fighter — but when asked for a prediction, Shields replied almost matter-of-factly.
“We’re not gonna go all six. I plan to get her out of there, third or fourth round,” Shields said. “My coach wants me to do it first or the second, but I want to, you know, show my skills a little bit on Showtime, so maybe third or fourth.”
Shields says at some point she’d like to fight on pay-per-view for a world title, and if her career goes anything like she envisions, she’ll have a chance to draw quite a following. That would be a welcome development not just for her, but for the sport of women’s boxing.
“It seems like as you’re an amateur, you don’t really get the respect that you should get, being a woman boxer,” Shields said. “So if I go pro and I do it and I fight on TV and I look great, and I outbox the men on the card, then we have some legacy going, and we can kind of make women’s boxing stick.”
NOTES: In the co-featured bout, Nikolay Potapov (16-0-1) of Russia challenges Antonio Nieves (17-0-2) of Cleveland in a 10-round fight for the NABO bantamweight championship.
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