FLINT, MI – Preteen girls Kaya Grair, 11, and Dachae Blackwell, 12, stood near the doorway entrance of the FWC Berston boxing gym.
Sure, they recognized Claressa Shields training with black and purple box braids, but they couldn’t identify the older gentleman strolling around the sweltering basement gymnasium in a gray suit on Wednesday evening, as nearly 30 young boxers were busy putting in work with other coaches.
“I really don’t care,” Grair said, laughing. “It’s just entertaining.”
“I just came down here to watch Claressa Shields because she is a boxer and she’s famous,” Blackwell added, as the duo giggled.
That 6-foot-1 slender man surveying Shields happened to be one of boxing greatest champions – known simply as “The Hitman.”
Thomas Hearns made the trip from Detroit to Shields’ home gym in Flint to compliment and critique her ahead of her third professional bout on Friday, June 16, at the Detroit Masonic Temple.
“This is my first time here but might not be my last,” Hearns said.
Shields, 22, will headline the Detroit Brawl, hosted by Salita Promotions and Greektown Casino Hotel, starting at 8 p.m.
Shields (2-0, 1 KO) is preparing to face Mery Rancier (7-8-3, 5 KOs) of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, in an eight-rounder at 166 pounds. The WBC Silver Super Middleweight Championship is on the line – which could potentially set up the chance for a major title fight later this year.
She is set to make $50,000.
“I never imagined this in a million years,” said Shields, a two-time Olympic gold medalist. “Just looking at him face-to-face, I was just like this is crazy. I’ve watched him box and now the tables have turned. He’s watching me box. It lets me know that I’m moving in the right direction of my career because I’m getting the right attention from the right people.
“Women weren’t even boxing in his day, he probably never even heard of it and all of a sudden he’s in my gym.”
The first thing Hearns noticed was how similar FWC Berston’s colors were to his lifelong Motown boxing home of Kronk Gym.
“They’re close! It’s red and yellow (at Kronk) but they’ve got purple and yellow so it’s not far off,” Hearns said, smiling. “It definitely reminds me of Kronk in the basement.
“Being down here, I know they get some work down here. Claressa has to come in here every day to really put on a show because if she doesn’t put on a show the people will be wondering, ‘what’s wrong with Claressa? She’s not as mean as they say she is.’ It was very important for me to be here today.”
The Michigan market is becoming a major draw for Shields’ early professional career. She won a unanimous decision against amateur rival Franchon Crews in her pro debut at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena on Nov. 19, 2016, then delivered a fourth-round TKO to win the NABF title March 10 at MGM Grand Detroit live on Showtime as the first female headliner on premium television in boxing history.
Her goal is to someday have matches at the Joe Louis Arena and the forthcoming Little Caesars Arena.
“Every one of Claressa Shields’ fights is historic as women’s boxing is just kind of making its way and coming together,” said promoter Dmitriy Salita of Salita Promotions. “Claressa is the face of women’s boxing, who I feel is on the way to becoming the face of women’s sports all together.
“To be able to do these things in a calm and confident fashion is all the signs of a great athlete.”
Tickets for Shields’ next fight are currently available at Ticketmaster and themasonic.com. Berston Field House is also offering a bus trip to the match for $65, which includes the ticket and bus seat by contacting Lynne Peterson at 810-397-0328 or Bryant Nolden at 810-252-5170.
Although the preteen girls may not have fully treasured the experience off seeing Hearns, Berston coaches Jason Crutchfield and Paul LeSears certainly soaked in the moment. It’s not every day that a winner of eight world titles in six weight classes pops into a gym to offer his knowledge.
“I was rooting for him when he fought Sugar Ray,” LeSears said. “This is history.”
“This is a beautiful thing,” Crutchfield said. “We’re getting our respect and we’re going to stop (Mery Rancier) in the first or second round. I want to get her out of there.”