WBO middleweight champion Savannah Marshall sensationally knocked out Femke Hermans to set up a potential undisputed clash with long-term rival Claressa Shields later this year.
Marshall, 30, unleashed a brutal left hook in the third round as the Belgian challenger hit the canvas by a neutral corner, with referee Howard Foster instantly waving off the fight.
While there was no official announcement of Shields-Marshall taking place next, negotiations are understood to be in the final stages.
American Shields, 27, entered the ring following Marshall’s win at the Utilita Arena in Newcastle and the two champions went head-to-head before security intervened.
Shields and Marshall share a rivalry dating back to their amateur days. The Hartlepool fighter says she would like a rematch, this time as professionals and for all of the middleweight belts, to take place in the United Kingdom this summer.
Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live after the win, Marshall added: “Claressa the boxer, we’ve had a couple of encounters in the ring… what she’s done in the sport is unbelievable. Claressa the person, I don’t like her and she doesn’t like me.”
Shields, also speaking to 5 live, replied: “I’ve already decided to come back and fight her in the UK. To fight her in her hometown is giving up a big advantage for me.
“We need some neutral fans so the fans can’t sway the judges. Have it somewhere in Wembley or the O2. That’s fair to me.”
Statement KO from Marshall
Hermans – a former super-middleweight world champion who had never been stopped – was on paper one of Marshall’s toughest opponents to date, a mandatory challenger who would provide a stern test but one the Briton was expected to overcome.
Marshall received some last-second instructions from coach Peter Fury before the first bell and looked relaxed, with hands down by her side, in a quiet opening round.
Shields, unimpressed, looked on and laughed from ringside. Marshall came out with more intent in the second round but was rushing her work, her punches falling out of range.
As those ringside felt this could be a tough night’s work for Marshall, the ‘Silent Assassin’ delivered a brutal one-punch knockout which demonstrates just why many consider her to be the biggest knockout artist in women’s boxing.
“I caught her a couple seconds of before and I saw her stumble back and I thought ‘I’ve got you here’,” Marshall said.
Shields dominated on points when she faced Hermans in 2018. The way in which Marshall floored the 32-year-old is a real statement and warning to her opponent.
But the American does not see it that way, saying: “I’m going to match her with power, I’m going to match her with skills, defence. She’s going to feel like she’s an amateur.”
Shields-Marshall – a decade in the making
After years of verbal exchanges, Shields and Marshall are finally set to settle their differences, and a decade-long rivalry, inside a boxing ring.
The winner will be considered by some as the number one pound-for-pound star of women’s boxing, but there is so much more at stake.
Shields is a double Olympic gold medallist, has won world honours at light-middleweight, middleweight and super-middleweight and is the first boxer – male or female – to be undisputed champion in two divisions in the four-belt era.
The self-assured Michigan fighter – the current the WBA, WBC, IBF and Ring Magazine middleweight champion – describes herself as the ‘Greatest Woman of All Time’.
Despite her achievements, the Newcastle crowd chanted “Who are ya?” as Shields entered the ring for media duties earlier in the night. Posing with her world titles and shiny Olympic medals, she replied: “I’m the GWOAT.”
But there is a blemish on Shields’ record which she is desperate to erase.
In 77 fights as an amateur and 12 professional bouts, she has only tasted defeat once – against Marshall at the World Amateur Boxing Championships in 2012.
Shields feels Marshall has been “living off that victory” for the past 10 years. She is aggrieved by an apparent lack of respect from her rival. Put simply, she does not believe Marshall is on her level.
Marshall herself enjoyed a stellar amateur career, despite missing out on an Olympic medal. She turned professional in August 2017, nine months after Shields, and from that moment a rematch between the two stars has been in the making.
A genuine super-fight
Social media spats intensified further when Marshall won the world title vacated by Shields in October 2020.
In February, Shields competed for the first time in the United Kingdom as a professional, beating Ema Kozin in a dominant points win. Marshall was not impressed by the performance at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena and was seen yawning to the cameras during the television broadcast.
When Shields was being interviewed ringside following the victory, Marshall joined her and the two, as they were in Newcastle, were separated by security.
The dislike for each other seems genuine, perhaps with a touch of pantomime, but Shields-Marshall has all the ingredients for a super-fight. They have two very different personalities, and two very different styles. If given the promotion it deserves, it has the potential to attract casual sports fans.
Women’s boxing is at an all-time high, with Ireland’s undisputed lightweight champion Katie Taylor taking on seven-weight world champion Amanda Serrano on 30 April – the first female fight to headline New York’s iconic Madison Square Garden.
The addition of Shields-Marshall to the boxing schedule would cement what is already down to be historic, illustrious and game-changing year for women’s boxing.