Marlen Esparza fights Shelly Barnett in the first bout of the pay-per-view.
The bantamweight fight is scheduled for six rounds.
Timur Kerefov defeated Manny Woods by technical knockout in the third round of their undercard fight, which was streamed live for free before the pay-per-view.
Kerefov, a Russian fighter who moves to 11-0 in his pro career, was winning the fight even before he opened up a cut near the left eye of Woods that left Woods wincing and clearly struggling to see. Two ringside doctors examined Woods’s eye and told the referee to stop the fight.
A second scheduled bout on the undercard, between Aaron Quintana and Robert Simms, was not shown, but the reason is not clear. The lack of that fight on the telecast left a 30-minute gap between the end of the preliminary bout and the start of the pay-per-view portion of the event.
Timur Kerefov won after Manny Woods suffered a cut to his left eye and a doctor stopped the fight.
Five years ago Marlen Esparza, who faces Shelly Barnett on the undercard, appeared positioned to team up with Shields to take women’s pro boxing mainstream.
Both fighters were Olympic medalists and world amateur champions, and Esparza in particular was marketing herself widely. After winning Olympic bronze in 2012, she partnered with Cover Girl cosmetics. She also scored a sponsorship with Nike, which provided her with custom boots for fighting and a high-profile mentor — Joan Benoit Samuelson — to guide Esparza in her distance-running hobby.
But even after signing with Golden Boy Promotions, Esparza, 31, struggled to gain traction with broad audiences. Friday’s bout is her first since a technical decision loss to Seniesa Estrada in November 2019.
Timur Kerefov faces Manny Woods in the first preliminary bout.
The middleweights will fight 10 rounds.
It’s a fair question, given boxing’s long history of building up fighters. Additionally, according to the online boxing database BoxRec, there are only 39 women boxing in the 154-pound division worldwide. In contrast, Boxrec lists nearly 1,700 active male boxers in the super welterweight class.
But it’s a little unfair given that fighters can only fight who’s available, and the smaller overall pool for women means a dearth of middling fighters on whom stars normally build their records. For Olympians like Shields, it means a fast-track to title fights — Shields won her first world title in her third professional bout. It can also lead to mismatches.
In November 2019, Seniesa Estrada, who is nicknamed Super Bad, won a nine-round technical decision over 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Marlen Esparza to claim the W.B.A. super-flyweight title. Her first title defense? A seven-second starching of Miranda Adkins, a 42-year-old who had started boxing in her late 30s, and who had never beaten an opponent with a winning record.
Yes, Shields is the evening’s protagonist, and the hometown hero looking to unify the 154-pound titles before a partisan crowd in Flint, Mich.
But the best pay-per-view events require a B-side fighter with a solid chance to win. Enter Marie-Eve Dicaire, an undefeated 34-year-old fighter from Quebec.
She doesn’t boast Shields’ amateur pedigree — Shields went 68-1 as an amateur, while Dicaire failed to qualify for the 2016 Olympics. But Dicaire is 17-0 as a professional, and her signature win was in November 2019, when she outclassed Venezuelan veteran Ogleidis Suárez to win the International Boxing Federation title.
I’m going to embrace this moment today because it really only comes once in a lifetime! What I’m setting out to do today has never been done! In not just one way! 1. It’s an All women’s PPV card 2. I’m the first fighter fighting for a chance to be Undi2puted 2 weights! GWOAT
— Claressa Gwoat Shields (@Claressashields) March 5, 2021
A biopic about Shields is in the works, titled “Flint Strong,” written by Barry Jenkins and co-starring Ice Cube. But Shields has already appeared in a feature film, the 2016 documentary “T-Rex.”
That documentary details the period between Olympic Games, from the euphoric few weeks after Shields won the 2012 gold medal, when Shields picked up sponsors and visited late-night talk shows, to a low period midway through the Olympic cycle, when she faded from the public’s radar.
Here, Shields flirts with turning professional, before ultimately committing to qualifying for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, where she ultimately won gold again.
Shields is 10-0 as a professional and 68-1 as an amateur. That lone amateur loss for Shields came in 2012, during a pre-Olympic tournament to British middleweight Savannah Marshall. The bout set the stage for a dramatic clash at the London Olympics, but Marshall suffered an upset loss in her opening-round bout.
Shields and Marshall managed not to square off in the intervening four years, but both landed in the middleweight tournament at the Rio Games in 2016, before another surprise Marshall loss derailed the rematch again.
Marshall is 9-0 as a professional and scheduled to fight in England next month. She has vowed to end Shields’s reign as champion. Shields has told Marshall to stop living in the past. Wins for both this spring might clear the path to a rematch.