The next big thing in women’s boxing? Turns out Claressa Shields is the big thing now.
The 16-year-old middleweight from Flint, Mich., turned the first U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Women’s Boxing on end Monday night with a dominant performance in upsetting top-seeded Franchon Crews in a crackling highlight to the opening round.
And on a night when nerves seemed to earn a draw in more than a handful of bouts, the youngest competitor among the 24 trying to take the next step to the London Olympics betrayed none.
“I wanted it – I wanted to fight her as soon as I qualified,” said Shields. “She was saying she’s the best, so if she’s the best, I wanted her. Piece of work.”
It’s hardly over for Crews, a five-time national champion. But now she’ll have to fight her way back in the double-elimination event, as only the champions in the three weight classes qualify for the AIBA World Championships in China this May.
A top-eight finish there guarantees fighters a spot in the first Olympic women’s boxing competition in July.
“I was told this is what champions are made of,” Crews said. “I want it back. She took something from me, and I want it back.”
Two other seeded fighters fell in the opening round of 12 bouts at Northern Quest Casino. Tiffanie Hearn of San Diego used a strong fourth round to edge third-seeded middleweight Tiffanie Ward 18-17, and Mikaela Mayer scored a lopsided 27-10 decision over No. 4 seed Lisa Porter in a battle between Los Angeles-area lightweights.
Meanwhile, Seattle’s Queen Underwood – the top-seeded lightweight and USA Boxing’s featured attraction for the week-long event – overcame a slow start to outpoint Bertha Aracil 22-12.
“I seriously think with all the adrenaline and all the emotions, I wore myself out before the fight,” Underwood admitted. “I want to fight again now. I want to do it over – that was bad.”
Two who had reason to be nervous were two relative newcomers, flyweights Alex Love – from Monroe, Wash. – and Taversha Norwood, who became the night’s first bout when No. 1 seed Marlen Esparza was awarded an injury walk-over win from Cynthia Moreno.
Love posted a decisive 24-15 victory, but also felt it was something of a wake-up call.
“It makes me feel good, but it also makes me aware of what’s at stake,” said Love, in just her third year as a boxer. “It’s only going to get more competitive every day.”
It will take that to top the electricity of the Shields-Crews fight, pitting two physical talents with an eight-year age gap.
In fact, Shields, a two-time Junior Olympic champ, only recently moved up from the 154-pound class.
The teenager forced the action from the beginning, and closed the first round with a flurry that helped her to a 10-6 lead that grew with each round. By the end of the fight, she had Crews on her heels with a series on hard shots.
“I knew going into the fight I had to beat her by a large margin,” said Shields, “so every round I tried to pick it up.”
The scoring – 31-19 – was only a hint of how thoroughly Shields, who qualified by winning the 2011 National Police Athletic League tournament, carried the fight.
“I hurt her a lot,” she said.
Crews didn’t acknowledge much beyond her own disappointment.
“I was good the first round, but I saw the score and started getting discouraged because it seemed like some of my punches weren’t getting counted – and her confidence went up,” she said. “But it’s something I didn’t do. I’m very disappointed in myself. I beat me.”
Crews and Shields were meeting for the first time, but many of the fighters have faced off in other tournaments. Love, for instance, beat Norwood in the PAL consolation final, but conceded that “it was harder this time.
“She was prepared for me,” she said, “and I was prepared, too – but you could tell we were waiting for this moment and it made for a great fight.”
Now the former basketball player at Interlake High School and Skagit Valley College has a considerably bigger challenge in Esparza, who beat Love at a Pan-Am Games qualifier last March.
“I did bad – she beat me up,” Love said. “I’m not going to lie.
“But I embrace it. You can’t call yourself a boxer if you don’t want to fight the best. I’m not going to say I don’t know she’s No. 1, but I’m ready to do this.”
U.S. Olympic Trials for Women
At Northern Quest Casino
Seeded fighters in parentheses
(1) Marlen Esparza (Houston) def. Cynthia Moreno (Phoenix), walk over (injury)
Alex Love (Monroe, Wash.) def. Taversha Norwood (Marietta, Ga.), 24-15
(3) Christina Cruz (New York) def. Virginia Fuchs (Kemah, Texas), 15-12
(2) Tyrieshia Douglas (Baltimore) def. Latonya King (Harrison Twp, Mich.), 34-11
(1) Queen Underwood (Seattle) def. Bertha Aracil (Yonkers, N.Y.), 22-12
Mikaela Mayer (Los Angeles) def. (4) Lisa Porter (Northridge, Calif.), 27-10
(3) N’yteeyah Sherman (Barberton, Ohio) def. Asia Stevenson (Washington, D.C.), 42-17
(2) Tiara Brown (Lehigh Acres, Fla.) def. Patricia Manuel (Long Beach, Calif.), 18-13
Claressa Shields (Flint, Mich.) def. (1) Franchon Crews (Baltimore), 31-19
Andrecia Wasson (Centerline, Mich.) def. Dara Shen (Alexandria, Va.), 34-9
(3) Tiffanie Hearn (San Diego) def. Tiffanie Ward (Hacienda Heights, Calif.), 18-17
(2) Tika Hemingway (Pittsburgh) def. Raquel Miller (San Francisco), 16-10