Claressa Shields and Hanna Gabriels looked like long-lost friends Tuesday afternoon at the Downtown Boxing Gym even though they were meeting for the first time to promote Friday’s world title fight.
Shields entered the gym at the end of Gabriels’ workout and went straight over to her opponent, introducing herself and giving the fighter from Costa Rica a hug before they smiled and posed for pictures.
Shields thanked Gabriels for fighting her, saying it’s been difficult to find opponents willing to risk taking a loss against the two-time Olympic gold medalist, while Gabriels was surprised to see that Shields was closer to her own size rather than being much bigger as she expected.
But when the pleasantries ended, Shields quickly turned serious and promised she’d be in no mood for small talk by the time the fighters weigh in Thursday prior to Friday’s bout at Detroit’s Masonic Temple, where they’ll square off for the vacant women’s IBF and WBA middleweight championships.
“There’s mutual respect until Friday,” Shields said. “And even after Friday, if you wanna go out to the club and you wanna talk about what happened, you wanna laugh, I don’t mind doing that. But Thursday, that’s when I get really mean. Friday, that’s the fight.
“And then after that, hey we can exchange numbers. She can call me or text me. I don’t care. I’d rather have friends than to have enemies.”
Shields (5-0, 2 KOs) and Gabriels (18-1-1, 11 KOs) are both reigning champions who will be changing weight classes to unify the 160-pound middleweight crown.
Shields, 23, is the WBC and IBF super middleweight champion while Gabriels owns the WBA and WBO super welterweight titles. The winner of their fight will face the winner of another fight on Friday’s card — Christina Hammer vs. Tori Nelson — to unify the middleweight title.
Hammer (22-0, 10 KOs) is the WBC and WBO middleweight champion while Nelson (17-1-3) is a two-time former champion whose most recent fight was in January vs. Shields, who recorded a unanimous 10-round decision.
Gabriels, 35, hasn’t fought since avenging her only pro loss back in October against Oxandia Castillo of the Dominican Republic. She won a unanimous 10-round decision after Castillo (16-3-3, 1 KOs) recorded a TKO during their first meeting in 2013.
Gabriels says Shields is in for “a big surprise” Friday night.
“We focus on her strongest abilities and I think we have a great plan,” she said. “They’ve told me that she’s been underestimating me a lot but I think it’s part of her game, part of what she does. It’s part of what she sells the most. She’s going to get a big surprise.
“But if not, it’s going to be a great fight. She’s coming for the victory. I’m coming for the victory as well. That just makes a great, great fight. So we’ll see.”
Plenty of tickets are still available and range in price from $35-$300.
Doors will open at 6:30 and the first flight is scheduled for 7. The Showtime telecast begins at 10 p.m.