Claressa Shields is something of a legend in American amateur boxing history, having won two Olympic gold medals in a 77-1 run, followed by a 10-0 professional record so far. Shields is also one of the eight boxers in history, men or women, to hold IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO world championships at the same time.
Shields has now set her sights on Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) having inked a multi-year deal with the Professional Fighters League (PFL). She plans on taking one-off fights at lightweight to learn and grow in MMA, whilst still accepting boxing challenges.
MMA Treats Women Equally In Fights
Shields has not given up on boxing but she thinks that one of the bigger perks of MMA includes the equal opportunity in pay for women and men. In the PFL, both get the chance to compete for $1 million whereas in boxing, professional female fighters earn less than their male counterparts. To put this in perspective, World Champion Heather Hardy made US$7,000 for her title defence while a male boxer with the exact same record made US$150,000.
As is with most other male-dominated industries, it’s no secret that women are treated as second class citizens. And boxing is one of those sports where there is a significant pay gap. Other female boxers like five-time World Champion Amanda Serrano has openly called out the wage gap. Despite her achievements in the boxing world, Serrano spends her days training clients in MMA to make ends meet.
And she’s not the only one as many female boxers have to have a second job or income stream to pay the bills. Shields herself doubles as an online workout instructor, offering one-on-one sessions and training six people a day.
As Shields puts it, “The biggest thing in women’s boxing is people say… women shouldn’t get paid the same because we don’t fight the same amount of time. But I wish more people will realise that we didn’t put those rules in place, the men did. So the men need to change those rules to where every world champion boxer for women can fight three-minute, 12 rounds.”
WBC: Pay Inequality Is Not About Sexism
The World Boxing Council (WBC) has commented that the pay inequality is not about sexism or about the boxing time. They stand by their rules that women should fight shorter bouts, and it’s more to do with the safety of female boxers rather than pay. According to them, scientific studies shows that female boxers were more likely to suffer concussions than men, with increased susceptibility, symptom scores and prolonged symptoms, which ultimately led to their steadfast decision of shorter fight times.
Currently, women’s world title fights are conducted over 10 rounds of two minutes, while men fight for 12 rounds of three minutes.
Shields has commented that female boxers don’t have as many knockouts as men because they don’t have enough time to get the knockouts. She has also fought back saying that women didn’t need protecting. “We all know what we’re signing up for. So no need to try to protect the women, if you’re not going to protect the men, because they’re getting knocked out, they’re getting hurt they are actually dying,” she added.
Even now as a reigning undefeated champion, Shields still finds it difficult to convince any of the sport’s major broadcast partners to buy her upcoming fights or to even pay her what she believed she is worth. On 5 March 2021, Shields will be headlining a pay-per-view stream of her light middleweight fight with Marie-Eve Dicaire in an attempt to get an opportunity for increased revenue, and also become The Ring’s first-ever two-division champion.
The pay gap doesn’t just only affect women. In the many years of boxing broadcast history, the spotlight focuses on certain divisions where the fighters make a lot of money from being televised. Other boxers like Roman Gonzalez and Francisco Estrada may put on better fights but the networks did not want to broadcast their fights as the guys couldn’t “put on a show”. Recently, the smaller divisions are starting to gain recognition, which brings along better treatment. It’s also time to see some changes in the treatment of women boxers.