Claressa Shields will attempt to make history Friday night when she and Marie-Eve Dicaire headline a fight card in Shields' hometown of Flint, Michigan. If Shields wins, she'll become the first boxer in history to be a two-division undisputed champion in the four-belt era. If Dicaire wins, she'll be the fifth woman to hold an undisputed championship in that time.
It will be the first time in 20 years a women's boxing match will be the main event of a pay-per-view -- an all-women's PPV card, put on by Salita Promotions, that intends to prove the sport has an audience that can make female fighters self-sufficient on a standalone show.
"Women can carry [fight] cards. Women have a fan base. People are tuning in to our fights and they want us to have equal rights, equal pay, equal promotion," Shields said. "And then we can make money without [promoters who won't book women's fights].
"That's what I want and I want for other girls who are going through the same thing that I'm going through in the U.S. to say, 'Hey, we're not going to wait around for you guys, either. You guys don't want to give us the opportunity, we're going to fight against the other world champion and see if a pay-per-view [provider] will get behind us and support our fight.'"
This is the start of what could be a big year for Shields (10-0, 2 KOs), who will hold all four belts at junior middleweight if she beats Dicaire; Shields holds the WBC and WBO titles, Dicaire (17-0, 0 KOs) has the IBF belt, and the vacant WBA title is also on the line. Shields has held at least one major belt in one of three different divisions since Aug. 4, 2017, when she beat Nikki Adler for the WBC and IBF super middleweight titles.
That fight was less than a year into her pro career, and her fourth pro fight.
Shields was also the undisputed middleweight champion until she relinquished the WBO belt in September 2020.
After Friday, she plans on making a transition to ramp up her mixed martial arts training in preparation for her MMA debut in June with a showcase bout for the Professional Fighters League. It's part of her plan to fight five times in 2021 after a mostly dormant 2020 -- three boxing matches, and two PFL contests.
"Being thoughtful about her boxing career and what's required, and then being thoughtful about her MMA career and what's required and so 2021 is the year of Claressa Shields, for sure," said PFL CEO Peter Murray. "She's an amazing human being. Her story transcends sport and now at this next goal to take on MMA, she absolutely has what it takes to be champion, but we'll see if she can get there -- and that's the fun part."
All in an effort to try and kick-start a career gone silent through no fault of her own.
"I'm 25, and in the last two years, I fought two times. I fought some significant fights, but I'm disappointed this is where my career is," Shields said. "I turned pro in 2016, November -- this is 2021. I'm supposed to be 15-, 18-0 right now. Haven't been able to fight as many times as I wanted to.
"I wasted a lot of time going through one injury that set me back, but all in all, I thought that 2020 was a big year for me and 2019 was a big year and it just seemed like it didn't go as planned."
Which leads to 2021, and what could be the Year of Shields if it plays out and is promoted correctly. Beginning Friday, she'll start on a course that further accentuates her boxing résumé and legacy while starting her rise in another sport. -- Michael Rothstein
By the numbers
Courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information
0: Number of boxers, male or female, who have been an undisputed champion in two divisions in the four-belt era. Shields would be the first, should she win against Dicaire on Friday. Shields unified the women's middleweight title in April 2019 by defeating Christina Hammer.
1432-512: The proportion of punches landed by Shields to punches landed by Shields' opponents in 10 pro fights, according to CompuBox. That's a difference of 920 punches, or 92 punches per fight. Opponents have landed an average of just 6.3 punches per round in those fights.
4: Number of pro fights it took Shields to win her first world title. On Aug. 4, 2017, Shields defeated Nikki Adler to win the IBF and WBC women's super middleweight titles with a fifth-round TKO.
16: Number of unanimous decision wins in Dicaire's career, in 17 fights. Her lone majority decision came in 2018, when one judge ruled Dicaire's fight against Marisa Gabriela Nunez a 95-95 draw. It is, thus far, the only scorecard that hasn't gone Dicaire's way in her pro career.
Tale of the tape
Dort Federal Event Center, Flint, Michigan
Title fight: Claressa Shields vs. Marie-Eve Dicaire, 10 rounds, for the undisputed (WBC, WBO, WBA, IBF) junior middleweight championship
Danielle Perkins (2-0, 1 KO) vs. Monika Harrison (2-1, 1 KO), 6 rounds, for the vacant WBC silver heavyweight title
Marlen Esparza (8-1, 1 KO) vs. Shelly Barnett (4-3-2, 0 KOs), 6 rounds, bantamweights
Logan Holler (9-0-1, 3 KOs) vs. Schemelle Baldwin (3-1-2, 2 KOs), 8 rounds, middleweights
Jamie Mitchell (5-0-2, 3 KOs) vs. Noemi Bosques (12-15-3, 2 KOs), 6 rounds, bantamweights
Intramarital race to a world title
There have been a few instances of siblings winning world titles in boxing, but one couple in France is aiming to become the first husband and wife to rule their respective weight divisions at the same time.
Husband and wife Tony Yoka and Estelle Yoka Mossely, who both won gold medals at the 2016 Olympics, will fight on the same card for the third time in a row Friday as they face important steps in their careers.
Merci a tous pour vos messages et vos encouragements hier. Ca a été un combat dur face a un adversaire compliqué mais on en sort grandi. Malheureusement je ne pourrai pas boxé en décembre car j'ai une Fracture a la main. Donc on va prendre le temps de soigner tt ca 🙏🏽🇫🇷❤️ pic.twitter.com/cZGkBBd5f4— Tony YOKA (@TonyYoka) November 28, 2020
Yoka (9-0, 7 KOs), 28, from Paris, gets the chance to impress a broader audience when he faces Belgium's Joel Tambwe Djeko (17-2-1, 8 KOs) for the fringe European Union heavyweight title at the H Arena in Nantes, France (ESPN+ 2:40 p.m. ET/11:40 a.m. PT).
The 6-foot-7 Frenchman has made a smooth start to his professional career since winning super heavyweight gold in 2016, but he suffered a broken right hand in his last outing in November when he won a unanimous decision over Christian Hammer.
Yoka hopes victory on Friday sets up a fight with Joe Joyce for the more widely recognized version of the European title later in 2021, in what would be a rematch of the gold medal fight in 2016. That plan may have hit a snag for the moment, though, as Joyce's team is currently in talks with Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk for a bigger fight.
Regardless of whether or not Yoka gets his rematch with Joyce, victory on Friday would move him closer to the world elite among the pro heavyweight ranks. Djeko, who only stepped up from cruiserweight to heavyweight in his last fight, will be a good test for Yoka, whose highest ranking among the four major organizations is No. 8 (with the IBF). To prepare for Djeko, Yoka spent six weeks training with American coach Virgil Hunter in California.
While Yoka is a couple of years from realistically challenging for one of the four major world heavyweight titles, Estelle is a bit closer to the top. Estelle (8-0, 1 KO), 28, holds the IBO women's lightweight belt and makes a second defense Friday against Germany's Verena Kaiser (14-1, 6 KOs). Katie Taylor is the undisputed world lightweight champion, and Estelle is one of the top fighters at 135 pounds chasing Taylor, of Ireland.
Saturday's card is a showcase for both fighters and a great chance to see the potential of the Yokas -- big stars in their native France -- becoming a serious threat as potential challengers to some of the biggest names in boxing. -- Nick Parkinson
H Arena, Nantes, Loire-Atlantique, France (Watch on ESPN+)
Tony Yoka vs. Joel Tambwe Djeko, 12 rounds, heavyweights
Estelle Yoka Mossely (8-0, 1 KO) vs. Verena Kaiser (14-1, 6 KOs), 10 rounds, women's lightweights
Farrhad Saad (7-0-1, 0 KOs) vs. Borislav Ivanov (9-1, 5 KOs), 8 rounds, middleweights
Warren Esabe (2-0, 0 KOs) vs. TBD, 6 rounds, junior welterweights