|Place: O2 Arena, London Date: October 15, Saturday|
|Coverage: Commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 7.30pm BST and from 10pm on BBC Radio 5 Live; live text commentary and reaction on the BBC Sport website and app.|
Savannah Marshall and Claressa Shields have known each other for a long time.
American Shields was just 17 when they met, Marshall had just turned 21. Both were in the amateur game at the time, just weeks after the London 2012 Olympics.
Ten years on, they have become bitter rivals and two world champions at the height of their powers.
When Shields, now 27, walks into a room already occupied by Marshall, tensions rise. The pair are often separated, entering events at different times, meeting briefly in a confrontation that ends in a shouting match.
It’s a rivalry that’s unlikely to go to bed on Saturday night, but how did it all begin? Why has it been so long? Is it a real fight hyped for the cameras?
First meeting in China
The rivals first met at the 2012 AIBA World Championships in China in May 2012.
“I remember when I got there everyone was talking about this young American who had never been beaten. He was the next superstar,” Marshall recalls.
Marshall, now 31, was preparing for the London Olympics while chasing Shields to qualify. It was only the second international tournament Shields had competed in and she had just won that summer’s continental championships against three-time world champion Mary Spencer.
Shields saw Marshall before luring them to fight each other. “His coach was looking at me,” he recalls.
The two women faced off in a fight that has gone down in women’s boxing folklore. Marshall emerged victorious in points, 14-8. He says he won easily, he thinks Shields beat him.
Mikaela Mayer, current world champion and US Shields teammate at the time, remembers the encounter.
“I remember Savannah boxing and keeping that perfect spot away from Claressa,” he says. “Don’t let him close that space and leave him with his hands. He fought away in those three rounds.”
Marshall believes the defeat, the only loss of Shields’ entire fighting career to date, is “eating away”. Marshall won the world championship a few days later, Shields at the London Olympics in August. That was the basis of their rivalry.
“We in the fans can’t erase the loss because I don’t care,” Shields says.
“I’m going to show everyone that I was better than him then and I’m better than him now.”
Sharing stories and different fan paths
Four years after their first meeting, Marshall traveled with Team GB to Colorado for a two-week training camp in preparation for the Rio Olympics.
Marshall and Shields were the only two middleweight women. Shields was the Olympic champion.
But they didn’t work together until the last day of camp.
“Nothing happened,” insisted Marshall.
Shields, of course, has a different version of events, saying, “I pulverized him in four rounds.”
The track record of the rival fans was very different. While Shields was a two-time Olympic champion in Rio, winning every amateur tournament he entered, Marshall stumbled repeatedly.
She was kicked out of her home Olympics in London in the preliminary stages and would suffer a similar fate at Rio 2016. As Shields performed so well, Marshall considered walking away from the sport entirely before a certain American superstar changed his mind.
The rivalry has regrouped for the pro game
Fast forward to 2016 and Shields has turned pro. Marshall continued in the paid ranks a year later.
Marshall Mayweather Promotions took over his retirement after serious consideration. But the allure of a burgeoning pro game and the endorsement of all-time great Floyd Mayweather were too much to pass up.
And a big part of Marshall’s interest was his history with Shields. Chance to regroup the matchup for the pro game.
But Marshall struggled to get Mayweather exposure in America and would eventually sign with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom in 2019. Meanwhile, Shields had already won world titles in two weight divisions and had become the undisputed middleweight champion.
Hearn immediately began announcing a rematch. Shields was undefeated in the pros, as was Marshall, and it seemed inevitable that the pair would reunite.
There was no time, as is often the case in boxing, and it wasn’t until 2021 when Marshall linked up with promoter Ben Shalom and Boxxer that the promises of a rematch didn’t materialize.
Shields immediately signed a two-fight deal with Boxxer and broadcaster Sky Sports. In February she fought in the UK for the first time as a professional, comfortably beating Ema Kozin on points.
He watched from the ring as Marshall defended his WBO title with a devastating third-round victory over Femke Hermans in April.
“I was dominant in the amateurs. I lost it at one point,” says Shields. “There was never any competition. That’s what they say but it’s not true.
“If you want to live in the pros, from the amateurs, you can. I don’t live there. I became a professional.
“I’m the only boxer to be undisputed champion twice. No one has done that.
“I don’t want to brag, but that’s the truth. He sold everyone this story that he beat me so badly in the amateurs. He’s better than me. I only got to the belts before him. All this mess and everyone believed this. .”
It was an easy fight, according to Shalom, who quickly grew interest in the women’s game.
After a delay over the summer and then a postponement from September 10 to October 15, the stage was finally set for the two best in the women’s game to go head-to-head.
‘We collide en masse’ – Opposites attract and collide
Ultimately, Shields and Marshall are very different people. Although they share hard work and loyalty, their personalities couldn’t be more different.
Shields is smart, exudes supreme confidence and probably wouldn’t shy away from a verbal spat with Pope if he questions his fighting skills.
Marshall is the opposite, having struggled with shyness throughout his career, only recently has his quiet confidence emerged.
“We clash massively. I’ve known Claressa for a long, long time. I’ve given up trying to crack that code,” Marshall admits.
“With the things he comes up with, he’s either not wired right or he’s trying to play evil.”
Shields and Marshall have had some verbal spats. One that stood out was after Shields’ last win. The American exploded as Marshall taunted him, pretending to fall asleep at ringside in Cardiff.
Insults flew between the two and that energy continued into fight night. They argued on Twitter, mocked each other from afar and even imitated each other in press conferences.
Their differences will be settled in the ring on Saturday. A close fight could spark the potential for a rematch and even a trilogy. The fight night is unlikely to end in a showdown under the lights.
“I’m not here to be friends with him. I’m here to fight for a world championship. I’ve trained, so it’s my confidence. [huge]. Knowing the work I’ve done and him not having it, he’s going to explode,” Shields added.
“It’s all a dare,” says Marshall. “She’s here because of me. She’s here because she can’t sell a ticket. I mean, you’d ask the average person on the street who Claressa Shields is? And really her face should be on cereal boxes.
“Of course, I respect Claressa. Not just as an opponent, but what she’s done for the sport. She rubs people the wrong way, but she’s the undisputed champion.
“I’m not stupid. I know what he’s talking about, I know what he’s done. That can’t be forgotten.”