Women’s boxing is carrying the fight game out of lockdown right now on the back of a number of high-profile show-toppers on both sides of the Atlantic.
Furyjoshua.com spoke to Mark Taffet - manager of superstar double Olympic gold medallist and three-weight world champion Claressa Shields - about what the future holds for her and the sport.
Claressa Shields would fight British star Savannah Marshall ‘tomorrow’ in a bid to avenge the only loss of her glittering ring career.
Shields is widely acclaimed as one of boxing’s brightest stars at the business end of the P4P rankings.
She has a perfect 10-0 professional record, and the only blot on her long and illustrious amateur career was a loss to the Hartlepool-based Marshall (8-0 as a pro) back in 2012. Shields dropped a decision as Savannah defeated her en route to World Championship gold in China.
According to Taffet, Claressa is keen to settle the score - and would happily fight in the UK if that’s what it takes to get a deal over the line.
He said: “There is a very natural rivalry and story to a Shields vs Marshall rematch because Claressa has had only one boxing defeat in her life when Savannah won in a bout during the amateur years.
“Claressa would fight Savannah tomorrow if Savannah would take it, and Claressa would love to go to the UK if that is where the bout had to take place to get a deal done.”
Shields vs Taylor PPV megafight
Women’s boxing is front and centre on TV screens right now with the thrilling world-title showdown between Terri Harper and Natasha Jonas headlining a Matchroom Fight Camp show on Sky Sports last month.
Then on Saturday night, Cecila Braekhus and Jessica McCaskill topped the bill in Tulsa on a show aired by streaming platform DAZN, while this weekend Katie Taylor rematches Delfine Persoon in another potential Fight Camp classic (live on Sky Sports Box Office).
It appears only a matter of time before we see women headlining major pay-per-view shows, something which Taffet has a fascinating insight on, having spent around a quarter of a century as a major part of the team which built HBO PPV into a behemoth.
While the previously-unbeaten Braekhus’ stunning upset defeat at the hands of McCaskill may have removed one of the most enticing options for Shields - Taffet believes there are still very viable PPV fights out there for her.
“For PPV to be successful, you need the right fighter as well as the right fights,” he explained.
“Claressa clearly has all the attributes required to headline a PPV event; the trick is developing the right fights to make PPV work. Claressa versus Laila Ali would be a very successful PPV event - a battle for the ages with cross-generational appeal.
“If Katie Taylor continues to ascend in weight and remains undefeated, a Shields vs Taylor showdown would be a megafight of two undisputed champions in their prime.”
Skills like ‘Money’
Shields has won world titles in three weight classes to add to those Olympic gold medals (London 2012 and Rio 2016). Taffet, who should know, says the the 25-year-old from Flint, Michigan also has a skillset which only Floyd Mayweather Jr in recent times can claim to surpass.
“I worked with a large number of boxers over my 25 years at HBO,” said Taffet.
“I truly believe that other than Floyd Mayweather, no other boxer over the past 25 years or right now has more skills than Claressa Shields. I also believe Claressa is an ‘old soul’ with wisdom well beyond her years, and she has the broad shoulders to carry a sport, a gender, and a movement toward equality. I am thrilled to help her on this journey.”
Taffet is well aware of the hard work, as well as skills, required to make a boxer into a box-office sensation. And he says fighters who have the whole package - Shields included - do not come along often.
He said: “In working with and building some of the greatest fighters of the past quarter century - fighters like Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and others - I learned that only a special few have the skills in the ring, the hard-work ethic outside the ring and in training, and the understanding that to become a commercial superstar you have to always work hard to connect with media and fans.
“I look for the same values in fighters I manage, though I do it with the understanding that the truly special ones like Claressa Shields come along only once in a decade if you are lucky.”
The fight for equality
Despite the current purple patch for women’s boxing, Taffet believes there is still a change in mindset required within the sport for it to maximise its potential.
“Too many promoters and networks still treat women’s boxing as a second level, occasional event,” he explained.
“I believe the field of female boxers exists to create a steady stream of outstanding fights across many weight classes at the professional level. Most importantly, female boxers need to lead the way in the sport by making as many 'best vs best' matches as possible - something that too often does not happen with the men.
“Claressa is the best female boxer in the world, and the woman most likely to break the top 10 P4P list with no gender labels… on her broad shoulders and as an attraction in the important US market, Claressa is the best candidate to lead women’s boxing to equality.”
When Taffet left HBO after a period of unparalleled success with the network (culminating in a record 4.6million buys for Mayweather/Pacquiao in May 2015), he wasn’t short on options in terms of what came next.
He says moving into management provided the opportunity to give something back to athletes, and he saw in Shields the potential to do something unique for the sport of boxing.
He said: “When I left HBO and began to contemplate what I wanted to do in chapter two of my career, one of the important goals was to give back. I had done 25 years of great commerce, but it was time to give back to the athletes and help where I could.
“Management offered that opportunity. When I canvassed the landscape, there was no boxer who I felt could make the sport impact and cultural impact as much as Claressa Shields, so I offered to help her realise her dreams. It has been a wonderful experience for me.”