MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields and surprising flyweight Virginia Fuchs won the U.S. Olympic women’s boxing trials Saturday night.
Lightweight Jajaira Gonzalez beat Mikaela Mayer by unanimous decision in a rematch to force a decisive third bout between the fighters Sunday for the trials championship.
Shields beat rival Tika Hemingway by unanimous decision, while Fuchs eliminated Olympic bronze medalist Marlen Esparza from contention for her second Olympic trip.
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The three U.S. trials winners will compete in international Olympic qualifiers next year to earn a berth in the Rio de Janeiro Games.
Shields remained firmly on course for her second Olympic berth, using her international experience and brute punching power to take down her fellow middleweight and greatest personal rival.
The hard-hitting Shields was the only American boxing gold medalist in the London Games at just 17 years old, and she has only solidified her international reign atop the division by going undefeated in the last three years.
”I landed the cleanest and the hardest shots every round, so I knew it was unanimous,” Shields said. ”I knew it wasn’t split. … I know from my international experience, as long as I’m landing the cleaner shots, leaning on the ropes doesn’t matter.”
Shields improved to 66-1 in her international amateur career with 40 consecutive victories, including titles at the 2014 world championships and at the Pan-Am Games earlier this year.
”I can’t believe I’m (going to be) a two-time Olympian,” Shields said. ”It’s just crazy to think about it. It’s definitely different, and I feel like I was little bit scared going into 2012. I had just had my first loss. This time, I haven’t lost in three years, and I feel like there’s nothing that can stop me (at) the 2016 Olympics this time around.”
Fuchs edged Esparza for the second time this week, winning both bouts by split decision and completing the most unlikely result of the week with the rematch victory.
”I look forward to the Olympics now,” Fuchs said. ”I haven’t made it yet, so when I get home, that’s on my schedule to train for.”
Esparza and Shields were the only Americans to win boxing medals in London, and Esparza has become a popular mainstream athlete with a Cover Girl endorsement deal and commercial appearances for McDonalds and Coca-Cola. Esparza also has a boxing boot made specifically for her by Nike.
But Fuchs upset Esparza’s Rio plan with a gritty performance in the trials against her fellow Houston-area fighter.
”She’s a great fighter, so I knew it was going to be close,” Fuchs said. ”It was a little closer than I wanted. … Every fight we’ve had has been real close, so I knew I would have to dig deep and she would have to dig deep to win this. I wanted it more, obviously, because I got the win, but I’ve got to give her credit.”
The 18-year-old Gonzalez rebounded from a split-decision loss to Mayer earlier in the week with a 3-0 decision in the rematch, applying constant pressure and her trademark high-volume punching for a tidy win over her taller opponent.
Gonzalez said she still felt ”the first fight (with Mayer) should have been 3-0” in her favor.
”This one, I put it in my head that I had to go non-stop,” Gonzalez added. ”Not let her breathe, not let her try to catch her breath. I think my aggression really helped today. I felt stronger.”
The Los Angeles-area natives will meet in a rubber match Sunday.
Gonzalez is a decorated junior fighter with multiple world titles to her credit, but is fighting for a senior division title for the first time.
”I’ve got to do a little better,” Gonzalez said. ”I’ve got to do a lot better, actually.”