Boxing medalist presents Muhammad Ali with Liberty Award
Young, Gifted & Black Series
By Taki S. Raton
Born on March 17, 1995, this virtually unknown competitor has been on the international boxing circuit for less than two years. But by 2011, this amazing African American from Flint, Michigan amassed a 19-0 record and, according to Erica Taylor in BlackAmerica.com, would be nicknamed the “16-year-old sensation.”
She is young, gifted & Black. Claressa Shields, now 17, has become the first U.S. boxer and African American fighter to win the middleweight Olympic gold medal in women’s boxing. August 9, 2012 in London marked America’s first women’s Olympic boxing event.
Claressa is now included among the elite ranks of Black youthful gold United States medalist. As recently featured in this series, she stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the proud listing of 16- year-old Gabrielle (Gabby) Christina Victoria Douglas who on August 2 became the first African American to win the Olympic women’s individual all-around gymnastics event and her second gold of the London Games coming two days following her “Fierce Five” Olympic team victory and Anthony Davis who at 19 became the youngest player to represent and earn the Olympic gold on the U.S. men’s basketball team on August 12, 2012.
In this inaugural event, Shields won the Olympic bout in a 19-12 victory over Russia’s Nadezda Torlopova.
As written in Huff Post Sports, she won the 12-member American team’s only gold medal in London as this would become a rare occasion that the “winningest nation in Olympic boxing history got no medals from the men’s team for the first time.”
And according to a published account by “Banana 105 Rocks,” a Flint Michigan rock radio station, Torlopova is described as “one of the best female boxers in the world,” and is “the female version of Ivan Drago, so Shields should be in for the fight of her life.”
However, as noted in Huff, Claressa “shuffled, danced and slugged her way past her 33-year-old opponent showing off the free-spirited style and brute strength that made her unbeatable at the London Games.” This competitor says the Post, “even stuck her tongue out at Torlopova after ducking a few punches in the final round.”
Taylor cites that this middleweight victor has been compared to Muhammad Ali “for her arrogance in the ring” and was inspired by Sugar Ray Robinson, but learned to box from her father who took her to the gym to learn boxing at the age of 11. In a background descriptor prepared by “bio.com,” her father took her to the gym to see fighters in action and shared with her stories about Laila Ali’s prowess in the ring. As cited in “bio”:
“Although her father then told her that boxing was a sport for men, Shields was hooked on the idea of pursuing it. She began training regularly until she was at the gym daily eschewing activities she saw her classmates doing, such as going to parties and dating. It was early on that she met her coach and trainer, Jason Crutchfield who will accompany her to the Summer Games.”
Fast-forwarding to February 2012, Claressa, then 16, would become the youngest boxer in the field and, says “bio,” was a sensation at the trials for the first U.S. women’s boxing team, winning three straight bouts in the middleweight division. One such match is described as being a “dominant performance” against top-seeded Franchon Crews, a five-time national champion.
Winning the Olympic gold was indeed an awesome experience for this Flint teen, but she will have an even greater honor when on September 13 in Philadelphia, Claressa will meet Muhammad Ali, the man who has been titled the greatest fighter of all-time and will present the 2012 Liberty Medal to the world champion. As quoted by Eric Woodyard in the Michigan blog MLIVE, the Olympic medalist is elated to meet Ali:
“I’ve watched his movies, I’ve watched him box and just to be able to really talk to him, I’m just really curious to see what he’s going to say to me. I think that he will have nothing but good words and I really hoped that he watched my fights in the Olympics.”
Established in 1988 to commemorate the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution, the Liberty Medal is annually awarded, as informed by a site post, “to men and women of courage and conviction who strive to secure the blessings of liberty to people around the globe.” Past award recipients include Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan, Sandra Day O’Conner, Steven Spielberg, and Colon Powell. Six recipients of the Liberty Medal have subsequently continued on to win the Noble Peace Prize.
According to Woodyard, Shields was selected to present Ali with his medal because of her accomplishment in London and how it coincides closely with his career. Philadelphia boxing manager David Price who arranged for her appearance says of Claressa that, “She was a groundbreaking Olympian doing something that nobody has ever done and that goes in line with Muhammad Ali and his entire life which was pretty much doing things that had never been done.” He adds: “Ali was a brash talking athlete that stood up to others and fighting for his constitutional rights. So with Claressa being the first one to win the gold medal, that goes hand in hand.”
Ironically, our gold medalist was also invited to meet President Barack Obama and to also spend time with Ali on this occasion, but as recorded in the Woodyard account, both events were scheduled on the same day and Claressa, and apparently Ali, choose Philadelphia. She will be joined by trainer Crutchfield and Ali’s former sparring partner Leon “Bumper” Lawson at the Liberty Medal reception. A local boxing coach, Lawson is a close friend of Ali who first met him in Louisville, Kentucky as a teenager. MLIVE describes how Lawson has not seen Ali in five years and has watched Shields rise within the ropes since she first started boxing at 11-years-old at Berston Field House in Flint. Both Shields and Ali have similar traits says Lawson:
“I told her that she’s self motivated just like Muhammad Ali. He would leave one gym and go to another gym with no one behind him pushing him. The coaches didn’t like it, but he went anyway.”
He adds that the young contender further reminds him of Ali because, “I see her running to gyms and all around the city. She’s a self-motivated girl. She’s in the gym all of the time. She’s dedicated and this is what it takes. She loves it.”
After taking some time off to celebrate her gold medal achievement, Claressa, now a senior, has resumed her classes as Flint Northwestern High School and is also back in training at Berston. She is looking forward to her first bout following the Olympics at the 38th annual National Police Athletic League Championships in Toledo, Ohio beginning October.