Boxer Claressa Shields says she relates to Serena Williams because she was told she was 'too dark, too mean, too loud' as a teen
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- Claressa Shields idolized Serena Williams when she was a teenager.
- Throughout her tennis career, Williams received mean-spirited, sexist, and racist abuse.
- Shields told Insider that she was told she was "too dark" when she was 18.
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
American boxer Claressa Shields said she can relate to the tennis champion Serena Williams.
There's the determination to remain excellent in a given sport, yes, but she's also had to overcome adversity by having to quash trolls, sexists, and racists throughout her career.
Williams has faced a catalogue of public abuse. She was called a "negro" by a fan in 2007 and was the subject of a racist cartoon in an Australian newspaper which insinuated that Williams acts like a baby having a temper tantrum.
Whatever Williams has had to endure en route to all her successes in tennis, there was always a teenage girl watching from afar in Flint, Michigan, who related to the superstar's struggles.
Speaking to Insider ahead of her boxing world championship unification match against Marie Eve Dicaire on Friday, Shields said she sees herself in Williams because, when she was just 18 years old, she was told she was "too dark."
Shields said: "Growing up, I liked Serena Williams who was a dominant athlete. She's a pretty girl to me but she was always mocked for how she looked, and for her darker skin.
"People made fun of her muscles and said mean things about her. When I was 18 years old, people would say things like that about me: 'You're too dark, too mean, too loud, and you box too good.'
Shields called Williams a role model of hers, and said young girls today might feel the same way about the US Vice President Kamala Harris.
"Representation is so important, especially in the African-American community," she said.
"With Kamala Harris in the White House, little girls who are Black or whatever complexion, it shows them that they can also do it. It's not a Black or a white thing — it's also being a woman thing.
"Spots are being filled and so we have representation for little girls to look up to, and build their life on."
Shields has other role models, too
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Shields walked to the ring for her last bout – a dominant 10-round win over Ivana Habazin 15 months ago — wearing a Beyonce-inspired costume while "Run the world (girls)" played in the background.
She chose that music to "magnify the moment," as she knew victory over Habazin would set a new record — she'd become the fastest boxer of any gender in history to become a three-weight world champion, after just 10 pro fights.
"That was all planned by me," Shields told Insider. "I had on black and gold, the crown, the cape, the beehives on my uniform. Who run the world? Girls.
"I'm letting them know I'm about to become a three-time divisional champion faster than any boxer ever, including Vasily Lomachenko.
"There's no other boxer who became a three-weight world champion faster than me. Women are here. Accept us. And if you don't accept us? We're going to break your records, okay?"
Speaking specifically about her tribute to Beyonce, Shields described the pop icon as "fierce."
"She can do everything — sing, rap, dance. Beyonce played Nala in freaking Lion King. What can't Beyonce do?
"She's super private but she shows herself and you know who she is in her music. I love how she's not one kind of woman — she's Beyonce! And Beyonce do what she want to do.
"Back when I was in the amateurs, my Twitter handle was 'The Beyonce of boxing' because I could box, I could bang, and I could go in there have defense.
"I can brawl like I'm Joe Frazier all night, or I can box your ass like I'm Muhammad Ali. Whatever you want, I can do. On top of all that, I'm cute. Beyonce — she's that girl. I love her. Serena, too."
Shields lauds Beyonce's versatility, but she too has her own broad range as she stunned the combat sports industries by signing a three year contract with the MMA firm PFL last year.
Away from the ring, she is an ambassador for Up2Us Sports which is a non-profit organization that aims to provide young people with life coaches for personal development.
Shields also has activist qualities as she regularly put the spotlight on Flint's water crisis. "I wear my hair blue when I fight to represent the water crisis and bring attention to it, because Flint still has dirty water," she told us.
Because of all this, together with her championship smile, it is likely Shields — a former two-time Olympic gold medal winner — will attract offers to participate in competition shows or reality TV in the years to come. She has all the makings of a transcendent star.
The WWE chief brand officer Stephanie McMahon even told Insider last year that she'd love to recruit Shields into her professional wrestling ring providing she wasn't standing opposite her because the boxer is just too damn scary.
So, would Shields do it? Would she smack someone on the back with a steel chair, launch herself from the top rope elbow-first, or break Big Show's nose like Floyd Mayweather once did?
"I actually met Stephanie McMahon in person and she's such a nice lady. You see her doing that stuff on TV, and then you meet her, and you think, 'These aren't the same people!'
"I think I'd be great on WWE. I would love to give it a try and use my trash-talking skills. I think it would be fun."
It remains to be seen whether she'd be a hero or a villain, though. "Oh, who knows! It just depends on what you like.
"I feel like in boxing I'm always seen as the villain because I'm so dominant and I always speak my mind. But in WWE, maybe I'd be a little bit nicer? Maybe I'd go and beat the bully."
Shields feels boxing has already cast her as a bully
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Shields told us that boxing has long portrayed her as the "big, bad bully [and] the one with the problem," but the reality is far more nuanced, she said.
The fighter told us she tries not to think about boxing 24/7, and likes to live a life outside of the ring.
She teaches young people how to box, she listens to Cardi B, and she dances. She learns specific routines that she'll upload to Tik Tok.
She likes to have fun, go to the club, and then goes to bed dreaming about driving flashy cars with even more world championship belts in the trunk.
Shields disagrees with her status as boxing's villain, and believes the reason she attracted that reputation is simply because she sticks up for herself.
She said that her rivalries tend to be started by her opponents — like when Christina Hammer entered the ring shortly after Shields won the world middleweight title against Nikki Adler.
"Christina Hammer talked s--- to me first," Shields said. "Nobody win the world championship, in the middle of celebrating, and then somebody else get in the ring and tell you, 'Good job but I'll beat you.'
"That was the ultimate disrespect and from there I couldn't like the girl anymore. I couldn't play along with this story, letting her disrespect me. I don't like disrespect.
"So I had to let them know and also let her know that I don't play that s---. You never seen a girl win a world championship and then have me get in the ring and say: 'I'll whip both y'all ass. Congrats, though.'
Shields said that Hammer's actions were "rude, disrespectful, and low class," and feels unfairly blamed for their rivalry.
"Everybody overlooks that and thinks I'm the big, bad, wolf. I'm the one who did something wrong as I snapped.
"I think her brother or someone put a finger in my face and I smacked his hand away, 'Don't put your finger in my face.' Whoever the guy was, he was talking s---. I just had to let them know.
"You need to know who you're messing with. I will beat up you, and I will beat up her."
Shields vows to beat up Marie Eve Dicaire on March 5
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The Shields vs. Dicaire fight will be broadcast on Fite TV as a pay-per-view.
Shields expects to put on a show against Dicaire. "If I was the girls she was fighting, I just don't think any of those girls were as athletic as me, smart as me, or punch as hard or as fast as me.
"She's an undefeated world champion, and she's also a southpaw, so I want to show all my skills there. I think she knows what she's up against."
Shields told us she's always learning, and often goes to the sport's biggest names for advice. Pound-for-pound king Canelo Alvarez, she said, told her to "use more feints before I punch."
"I have conversations with a lot of fighters, world champions. Everyone gives me great feedback, but I'm my biggest critic."
Shields, 25, has already achieved a lot in combat sport. She's won titles, headlined on the premium network Showtime, and is now competing on pay-per-view.
If she beats Dicaire, all she wants is more success.
"I just want to become a household name, have a bunch of lavish cars, and live in a nice house – a mansion. I have so much time left in boxing. All I can do is take it one fight at a time."