LOS ANGELES – Two-time Olympic boxing gold medalist Claressa Shields plans to make her professional debut Nov. 19 in Las Vegas.
Shields will fight on the undercard of fellow Olympic gold medalist Andre Ward’s high-profile showdown with Sergey Kovalev, the show’s promoters announced Tuesday. Shields is being represented by Roc Nation Sports, the management company founded by music mogul Jay Z.
The 21-year-old Shields has won gold in every Olympic women’s boxing tournament, dominating the field in London and Rio de Janeiro. She is the only American boxer ever to defend an Olympic title, and she won the Val Barker Trophy as the tournament’s top overall fighter in Brazil.
Shields’ pro debut will be a four-round middleweight bout with two-minute rounds, the same length as women’s amateur bouts. Her opponent hasn’t been selected, but the fight will be available for free on many cable and satellite systems carrying the pay-per-view show.
“After working hard for so many years and having the honor to represent my country at two Olympic Games, I am thrilled to take the next big step in my career, fighting professionally and leading the rise of women’s boxing worldwide,” Shields said in a statement.
The International Boxing Association (AIBA) changed its Olympic eligibility rules this year to allow professionals to compete at the Olympics by participating in qualifying tournaments. AIBA and USA Boxing didn’t immediately respond to questions about Shields’ potential eligibility for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
Shields has expressed past interest in competing in several more Olympics, but she also hoped to get the financial backing necessary to start a trailblazing pro career.
“Whichever promoter takes on women’s boxing is going to be a very wealthy man, especially if he takes up me,” Shields told the Associated Press earlier this year. “If he wants some money, he knows what to do.”
While female boxers fight professionally around the world, they usually earn a fraction of their male counterparts’ financial rewards. HBO and Showtime, the U.S. cable networks backing the majority of big-money fights in North America, haven’t aired women’s boxing in several years.
Shields could be the athlete to break that barrier with her raw skill, fierce athleticism and charismatic ring presence. Shields has toyed with the world’s best boxers since 2012, winning two world championships and a Pan-Am Games title while going undefeated since London.
Earlier this month, Shields was named the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Sportswoman of the Year along with water polo goalkeeper Ashleigh Johnson. Shields’ determined rise from a tumultuous childhood in her native Flint, Michigan, to two Olympic podiums has been retold in a feature-length documentary and countless news stories.
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