'The rivalry sells itself' - Savannah Marshall discusses Claressa Shields showdown, dealing with fame and her Hartlepool United experience
There can be no removing the smile from Savannah Marshall’s face at the moment.
Hartlepool’s fighting champion has enjoyed a whirlwind 18 months as her journey towards the top of women’s boxing has taken a meteoric rise.
Fourteen months ago Marshall put on a clinic to claim the WBO middleweight title by inflicting the first stoppage of Hannah Rankin's career before an equally impressive third round stoppage of Maria Lindberg to defend that title.
It had been difficult for Marshall to acclimatise herself with her new found stardom, given that both her title victory and first defence came with no spectators.
But the ‘Silent Assassin’ was finally rewarded for her supreme talents back in October when a crowd of over 10,000 watched on in Newcastle as Marshall punched her way to another devastating defence of her title over the undefeated Lolita Muzeya.
The often reserved Marshall found herself basking in the joy of her North East fans up on the middle rope as her star continues to shine brightly.
And Marshall’s smile was almost as bright as that star recently when she was paraded around the Suit Direct Stadium of her hometown club Hartlepool United.
Marshall took the applause of almost 6,000 Poolies who serenaded her with cheers of ‘Savannah Marshall, she’s one of our own,’ as the middleweight superstar almost delayed kick-off between Pools and Forest Green Rovers as she rejoiced with supporters, signing autographs and taking pictures for fans young and old with her WBO championship.
Marshall was Pools’ guest of honour and she took centre stage before, during and after the game, taking the applause of supporters once again in the club’s 1908 bar afterwards adorned in the teams blue and white stripes.
But while Marshall tends to do her talking with her fists in the ring, she admits she may finally be getting used to her fame outside of it.
“It’s still a little bit weird. I’m at the point now where my postman knows who I am so I think I’m slowly getting there,” she told The Mail.
“The reception [in the ground] was unbelievable. I was really overwhelmed.
“I’m always worried about what it will be like. I remember saying to my Mam ‘I hope a couple of people ask for photos’ because otherwise I’m just going to be stood there looking awkward but it was brilliant. I had to kind of rush round and felt a bit bad, so I went back round at half-time.
“I do feel the support now after my last fight,” she adds.
“Before then I had two fights with no crowds so I kind of felt on my own, whereas now it feels like the whole of the North East is behind me.”
Marshall’s parade around the Suit Direct Stadium comes off the back of a that standout second round stoppage over Muzeya which moves her one step closer to the showdown all boxing fans want to see against Claressa Shields.
Shields and Marshall were billed to be on the same show as one another this weekend following the American’s seven-figure deal to join Marshall with next generation boxing promotion BOXXER.
Shields, boxing’s first ever undisputed world champion of two weight divisions, is set to return to the boxing ring after launching her MMA career earlier this year and will put her IBF world middleweight championship on the line against Ema Kozin on her UK debut in Cardiff.
But for Marshall, her face-to-face showdown with the American may have to wait a little longer after she was forced to pull out of her fight with an injury to her hand sustained in the win over Muzeya.
“It was in round one. It was with a jab,” Marshall explains of her injury.
“I remember catching her and thinking I’d done something and she just looked at me and then came forward again and I was just thinking ‘wow, she is tough’.
“But to be honest I just see the other side [of the injury] really because it gave me a couple of weeks to come down a bit.
“Previous to this fight I did an 18 week camp and I was at the point before I boxed where I was exhausted. So really I think it’s a bit of a god send.”
But while Marshall may not be stepping in the ring in Wales on Saturday night, she will have an interested eye on her arch rival Shields.
Marshall remains the only blot on Shields’ copy book from their encounter in the amateur ranks and the Hartlepool fighter knows just how much that loss continues to rankle the American.
“Of course it does,” says Marshall.
“She’s trying to come across as humble and grateful but she’s not. She’s awful. She hasn't changed.”
Should Shields overcome Kozin, the onus will then be on Marshall to fulfil her mandatory bout, of which she hopes will take place in February, in order for the two to finally meet early next summer.
But Marshall believes the pressure is on Shields ahead of this weekend.
“It’s really important, especially for her because she’s actually boxing. So she’ll have to be focused on the job whereas I can just enjoy myself.”
Should both fighters come through their respective fights then fans can expect to see the two collide in a blockbuster bout in 2022.
But just where will that fight take place? Having enjoyed her homecoming at the Suit Direct Stadium, would the home of Hartlepool be in the running?
“We’ll have to wait until after the fight in February. We’re hoping to have it in an open stadium, so maybe. We’ll just have to see.
“We 100 per cent expect that to be the next fight. We’re hoping for June time so we’ll get February out of the way then we can push on for that.
“I think it’ll be a really exciting fight. It’ll be massive for female boxing. The rivalry sells itself.”