Fitness Fridays: Claressa Shields On Misconceptions About Female Boxers And Why She Doesn’t Care About Intimidating Men
Claressa Shields is set to be the greatest female boxer of all time. At least, that’s what she tells herself and trains to show the world.
The 23-year-old professional boxer out of Flint, Michigan is working to prove that, too. She’s a two-time Olympic gold medalist, a five-time world champion, two division champion, and the unified champion at 160 pounds. She is set to fight in April (and will be the main event fight on Showtime) to become the undisputed champion, which means having all of the belts in one weight class. She just has one belt left to get and she’s confident that when it comes to her opponent, “I’m gon’ smash her and get it.” But as of right now, on a random weeknight in New York City, she’s just helping to promote the new Taraji P. Henson film, What Men Want (out February 8). She taught a boxing class in Midtown East to some novices, some boxing lovers, and even some kids.
She’s certainly come a long way. Shields has been boxing since she was 11.
“I was inspired to box by my dad,” she said. “He told me a story about Muhammad Ali having a daughter named Laila Ali. I thought my dad wanted me to take after him because my dad used to be a boxer, too. But he didn’t want me to box. He actually told me I was too pretty to box. But I’m a pretty good boxer, that’s what they tell me.”
After proving she could hold her own when he signed her up for boxing as a pre-teen, she continued to do that in the Olympics, and in the professional boxing ring. “I just kind of fell in love with the sport.”
She is now at the top of her sport, and she’s not only fighting for belts, but to also change people’s mindset about women boxers. In a Q&A after class, she revealed there are many.
“They think women that box are manly,” she said. “They think that women who box want to be men. I don’t want to be no man! They think women who box are not sensitive and that our butts are hard. Silly stuff. I took my shoes off one time at a training camp. I never knew it was such a big thing, but everybody runs over and they’re like, ‘Yo, she has pretty feet!’ And I’m like, ‘Why the hell wouldn’t I?’ They think because I’m a boxer I got ugly feet and my body is hard. No, I’m a woman. I just do what y’all do, and I do it a little bit better.”
And while such misconceptions, and Shields’ strength, could intimidate people, namely the men she encounters, she says they’re more intimidated by the way she carries herself and allows them to treat her. Everybody but her current boyfriend, in case you were wondering.
“I think that with men, when I think about myself, they’re more intimidated by my character than boxing,” she said. “And my character is always like demanding respect because I respect everybody, being fair. If you’re nice to me I’m nice to you. If you be mean to me I can be a lot meaner. I’ve always been like that. I don’t let guys call me out my name or even joke in that way — just be disrespectful. I will fight over my respect and who I am.”
But to be that strong, physically and mentally, Shields says she prioritizes her training sessions. According to her, they bring a sense of peace in her busy and stressful lifestyle.
“People always say boxing does a lot of things for you physically, but it does more for me mentally than anything,” she said. “When you see women running on the treadmill, hitting the bag, a lot of women don’t want to do it to lose weight. We do it because it helps to keep us sane. It helps us to not go crazy. For me, I have to box, I have to train. When I don’t, I’m super irritable. I want to punch somebody, that’s just how it is for me [laughs]. I’m like, ‘I need to get away from my boyfriend before he catch one.’ When I go to the gym and I work out, I work out, then I leave, and then I feel like I’m back to normal again. Just like they say you’re not the same if you don’t eat, I’m not the same if I don’t box. I need to go to the gym. It’s a stress reliever, it’s a coping mechanism for me, and it just keeps me from going nuts.”
“There’s so much stuff that I’m thinking about 24/7 and the only time I get to have any downtime is when I’m punching the bag,” she added. “When I’m fighting. When I can just let my hair down, or tie it up, and just throw some punches. That’s when I feel my best.”
And all of that time in the gym, that dedication to her craft, has helped her crush the competition. But she still feels she has a ways to go. Don’t forget, she’s trying to be the greatest.
“I’m never satisfied. I want to be a better fighter, I want to fix my mistakes,” she said. “But my motto for really every fight is, ‘Go big or go home’ for one. If you’re not going to go big, don’t even come. Like, I’m at the gym, I’m training, and I’m constantly telling myself, your best is never good enough because your best is yet to come. You are a great fighter but it’s time to be the greatest fighter. First you were OK, then you were good, then you were great. Now it’s time for me to step in to be the greatest.”