Even in defeat, Savannah Marshall won as women’s boxing truly arrived

Even in defeat, Savannah Marshall won as women’s boxing truly arrived

When a fighter sacrifices everything and it’s just not enough, it’s common to witness tears, tantrums and sheer emptiness behind the eyes. That raw moment in the minutes and hours that follow, a beaten fighter craves privacy, but the sport demands one last intimate moment. Often a fighter will regret their reaction; storming from the ring after a decision, refusing to acknowledge a rival as superior or denying them their moment to shine. Not so Savannah Marshall.

There was dejection, sure, but the Hartlepool fighter, slipping to a first professional loss to the irrepressible Claressa Shields, now a three-weight undisputed champion, could already see the legacy created after gambling on Saturday’s iconic night for women’s boxing at The O2 in London.

"I’m disappointed that I came up short," Marshall conceded. "But if it’s done anything for female boxing, if it’s pushed the sport, if it’s made young boys and girls want to get in the gym and give it a go then I’m happy with that."

There was great savagery across 10 enthralling two-minute rounds but neither woman’s energy was depleted for sustained periods despite a collective 877 punches thrown, 607 of which were power shots, per Compubox. The bullets ricocheted off Shields’ guard at times, while the masterful boxer’s precision and surprising bite kept the languid frame of Marshall at bay when it mattered most down the stretch.

Marshall, 27, is not the undisputed world middleweight champion, not yet anyway, but she can treasure something more valuable. BOXXER promoter Ben Shalom labelled it as "one of the greatest nights in boxing history", where 20,000 fans packed into an arena where men’s boxing routinely requires the top bowl to be closed off. There was a different kind of atmosphere to the usual fight nights seen on these shores. A more jovial feeling and less hostility in the air throughout the countdown.

Marshall may have secured her own legacy on Saturday, but she also helped to build a platform for others too. Two Olympians, Lauren Price and Kariss Artingstall, dazzled in victories, while Caroline Dubois, eager to snatch the limelight after shunning an Olympic journey of her own, displayed polished skills and moments of recklessness to thrill the crowd.

"It was a monumental night for women’s boxing and women’s sport," reiterated Shields’ manager Mark Taffet. "We needed these two girls to give us the fight they gave us, we needed the pace, we needed those 10 rounds, we needed people hanging on the edge of their seats and saying, ‘you know something, damn I can’t wait to see women fight again.’ They didn’t just deliver, they over delivered."

Taffet is right, not only did Sky Sports and BOXXER gamble with an all-women card, but now the temptation will be to persevere and replicate it in what could emerge as a separate product in the ring entirely.

Claressa Shields celebrates as Savannah Marshall looks on (Getty Images)
Claressa Shields celebrates as Savannah Marshall looks on (Getty Images)

"We need to see more of these type of fights," Marshall’s trainer Peter Fury insisted. "They both stepped up and fought out of their skin, testing each other to the max.

"Although we’ve come with a loss, we’re happy with the way it went, I’m very proud of Savannah, she showed a true fighting heart. That’s what we want to see more of in boxing, get stuck in, have a fight, blood and guts, that’s what I’m in boxing for. Come up short, win, lose or draw, get stuck in and put your best foot forward."

Top Rank promoter Todd DuBoef told the Independent how women’s boxing provided a "whiteboard" effect, to sculpt and shape a sport without the hurdles that so often plague men’s boxing.

If women like Marshall, Shields, Mikaela Mayer and Alycia Baumgardner encourage others to sacrifice the ‘0’ and provide these intense rivalries at the highest level on a regular basis, then women’s boxing will seldom require a fight to "marinate".

Marshall pushed Shields closer than anybody else in the legendary American’s career (PA)
Marshall pushed Shields closer than anybody else in the legendary American’s career (PA)

Shalom is naturally eager to hastily negotiate a pair of rematches, but perhaps even more importantly women’s boxing requires a shift towards three-minute rounds, which would inject more swings in momentum and add greater variance to a fighter’s repertoire with those bigger punchers, such as Marshall, likely to prosper as fights develop.

"I hope we can extend from two-minute rounds to three-minute rounds," Shalom confirmed. "Even with Mayer vs Baumgardner it was so hard to score."

Marshall will now be left to lick her wounds, there was no shame in losing to a legendary talent such as Shields. A glance at the reaction and subsequently magnificent career of Canelo Alvarez after falling short to Floyd Mayweather Jr in 2013 ought to further demonstrate how this performance, even in defeat, enhances her legacy. The sport may never be the same again and Marshall can stand tall having played her part.