‘Claressa couldn’t knock the skin off a rice pudding!’ - Savannah Marshall on her long-time rival Shields and the debt she owes trainer Peter Fury
When Savannah Marshall’s world title fight was called off for a second time after her trainer Peter Fury tested positive for coronavirus, the 29-year-old Olympian felt as if it may never happen for her.
The Hartlepudlian had been due to compete for a light-heavyweight belt back in April before the pandemic struck, with a postponed date of June also eventually being scrapped.
And then when she dropped down two weight classes to take on Scotland’s Hannah Rankin for the WBO middleweight belt in Peterborough on October 17, Fury returned the positive Covid result on fight week.
“For weeks and months I’d watched all the other Matchroom girls get their opportunities and there were times when I thought ‘when is my chance going to come’?” she told NewsChain.
"Even with Peter testing positive, in my head I was thinking he could be testing positive for months. So am I even going to fight this year?"
At the time, the British Boxing Board of Control’s rules stated that Fury had to return a negative test before he could be allowed in Marshall’s corner, something which in theory could have taken several months.
But just a few days after he completed his mandatory self-isolation, he delivered the all-important negative result.
Promoter Eddie Hearn swiftly rescheduled the fight with Rankin to October 31 on the undercard of Dereck Chisora’s heavyweight clash with Oleksandr Usyk in London.
And this time, nothing was going to stand in Marshall’s way.
The amateur world champion produced one of the best British performances of the year, dominating Rankin from the first bell with her slick switch-hitting and devastating power.
It was as if the six months of postponements and setbacks were being taken out on the Scot, who showed resilience just to make it to the seventh round.
Eventually Marshall’s class prevailed as a barrage of punches sunk Rankin to one knee, before the referee waved it off to crown a new queen in the north east.
"It’s just surreal," she said. "How long I’ve waited for the opportunity and how it’s worked out with Peter testing positive for Covid three weeks ago. It’s just been crazy.
"But it’s all worked out. I’ve learnt just to let what will be will be. I’m just going to ride this.
"I’m my own biggest critic. I watched it back last night and I can box so much better than that. No disrespect to Hannah Rankin but I think more for what was coming back, I think.
"I’ve come on leaps and bounds with Peter. You only have to look at my amateur fights three years ago, I’m a totally different boxer. I can switch! I remember when he first told me to switch up and I was like ‘No, I don’t do southpaw!’
"Even with him saying he wants my hands down near my waist, slipping and sliding, to me that was completely alien because I was your typical amateur boxer - hands up around your temple, backwards and forwards in straight lines. Now I’m a totally different fighter."
Marshall’s statement performance caught the attention of many in boxing, none more so than her long-time rival Claressa Shields.
Shields, 25, is a two-time Olympic gold medallist and three-weight world champion in the pro ranks.
The American also holds the other three world title belts in the middleweight division and was ultimately made to vacate the WBO strap because she could not be undisputed champion in two weight classes at the same time.
This led to Marshall’s shot at the vacant title against Rankin, with Shields becoming mandatory challenger for the Brit’s belt.
There is also the added spice that Marshall is the only fighter to have beaten Shields - amateur or pro - after she got the better of her in 2012.
It is this needle between the pair which has led to all manner of words being traded back and forth down the years.
And Shields was happy to trade verbals again immediately after Marshall’s victory.
Speaking on Twitter, she said: "I think I’d have a murder charge if they let Marshall anywhere near me inside the ring @DAZNBoxing__ I’d beat her that bad!!!!
"Congrats to Marshall, I’ll be to collect MY @WorldBoxingOrg real soon! I’m your mandatory. No ducking love."
Then later, after Marshall had said Shields ‘doesn’t want none of me’ on Sky, the American added: "Man stop it ?! I’m gonna beat the girl til she turn red & blue! Set it up @peterfury @DAZNBoxing__."
Both Marshall and Shields are undefeated as pros, the Brit in nine bouts and the American in ten.
They now also have a common opponent in Rankin, with Shields beating her by unanimous decision two years ago.
And Shields, who has only knocked out 20 per cent of her opponents compared to Marshall’s 77.78 per cent, insists she ‘wasn’t trying to stop Rankin’ when she fought the Scot in 2018.
It is this statement that Marshall has taken joy in mocking her for.
"Look at Claressa’s record. Look what she did to Hannah Rankin," she said. "Claressa couldn’t punch her way out of a paper bag! Claressa couldn’t knock the skin off a rice pudding! She couldn’t do nothing!
"I made Hannah Rankin take a knee. Even look at her response on Twitter, her heads fell off! Someone said to her that she couldn’t stop Hannah Rankin and she said ‘Well I didn’t want to’. Come on now! Who doesn’t want an easy night’s work?
"The way she goes on, I don’t have to say anything. My fans say it for me! She bites at every Tom, Dick and Harry.
"Claressa Shields doesn’t want none of me. She doesn’t. I’ll tell you that now."
Marshall v Shields promises to be a blockbuster in 2021, another fight which makes it all the more frustrating that fans are not returning to arenas up and down the UK or US any time soon.
And while Marshall recognises that if the pandemic rumbles on she may have no choice but to take on Shields behind closed doors, realistically she feels there has to be a crowd.
"I believe that fight is the biggest fight in female boxing history," she said. "And the fans need to be there."