There is no one, single golden age in boxing. Golden ages come and go, from division to division and sometimes across multiple divisions, to a fairly steady drumbeat.
Some golden ages stand out as such because of how rich they made a whole lot of people.
Some stand out because of the level of competition they produced.
Some, like the eras of Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard, had both.
Whether they are one, the other, or both, rarely do they cover most of the scale at once but those occasions can arise. We’re living through one right now in women’s boxing. With unification fights in almost every weight class from 105-168 pounds in the last few years, and multiple undisputed queens, women’s boxing is providing fans almost everything it has to offer.
This Saturday (ESPN+, 2 PM EST) will provide the latest chapter in a battle between two women who could both be undefeated but for a single shared opponent.
Middleweight champion Claressa Shields styles herself the Greatest Woman of All Time, or GWOAT. With two Olympic Gold Medals and a thus far flawless professional resume, she is building her case. In Shields pro debut, she defeated another debutante in Franchon Crews-Dezurn.
The 36-year old Crews-Dezurn (8-1, 2 KO) hasn’t lost since. In her fifth pro fight, she won the WBC belt, added the WBO belt two fights later, and completed unification of the class in April 2022 by defeating unbeaten Elin Cederroos. The only thing Crews-Dezurn hasn’t done yet is get Shields back into the ring for a chance at revenge.
She also hasn’t beaten her dangerous challenger this weekend.
32-year old Savannah Marshall (12-1, 10 KO) was the only woman to defeat Shields as an amateur en route to a Gold medal at the 2012 World Amateurs. Two Olympic appearances for Marshall didn’t produce similar results but she claimed a title as a professional and found herself in a big fight last year with Shields. Marshall won a few rounds and gave it a go but ultimately found herself running a distant second to the standard bearer of this era near her weights.
Marshall probably won’t find a bigger fight than a Shields rematch. Having an undisputed crown at super middleweight could be a hell of an enticement.
For now, the champion and challenger can’t worry about who might be or the stings of previous defeat. They have each other and that’s more than enough.
Women’s boxing, particularly as the sport moves farther up the scale, thins out quickly in terms of not just quality competition but competition in general. Using BoxRec as a gauge, there are currently only 32 super middleweights tracking in their current rankings. That doesn’t represent all active fighters. Crews-Dezurn has been inactive for a year and so isn’t ranked by their algorithms but will very much be the champ this weekend.
Comparatively, BoxRec tracks more than 1,400 competitors in the men’s super middleweight division. And yet that disparity still doesn’t detract from part of what makes this era in women’s boxing so intriguing.
Think about it…for all the fighters who compete on the men’s side, how many super middleweight fights on the men’s side really generate public clamor? Most of them involve challengers to champion Saul Alvarez; David Benavidez-Caleb Plant was also a success this year.
No matter how many fighters there are, there are only ever really a handful of fights that stand out from the crowd. Women’s boxing is making those fights consistently, whether it be Katie Taylors’s battles with Amanda Serrano and Chantelle Cameron, the Shields contests mentioned before, or last year’s Alycia Baumgardner-Mikaela Mayer bout among a wide range of notable affairs.
Just a generation ago, what demand existed for Laila Ali-Anne Wolfe or Christy Martin-Lucia Rijker ended in a whole lot of nothing.
This weekend we have a real something in a fight that will make the super middleweight division feel important and that doesn’t have a clear favorite. That it happens in the shadow of a fighter who has dominated the field from Jr. to Super middleweight so far adds to its significance.
Crews-Dezurn and Marshall are about to take their most significant fight in their life with the GWOAT and the winner may find it the most direct path right back her direction.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org