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Claressa Shields set for first professional fight Saturday

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(AP) — She became the first American woman boxer to win a gold medal in the London Olympics, then did it again a few months ago in Rio.

Nice trinkets, but Claressa Shields has bigger things in mind. Way bigger.

“A one-in-a-century fighter,” Shields said.

The brash middleweight from Flint, Michigan, makes her pro debut Saturday night on the undercard of the Andre WardSergey Kovalev light heavyweight title clash. She’ll do it without headgear but with the same two-minute rounds as in the amateurs.

And she will do it against a familiar opponent in Baltimore boxer Franchon Crews, a top amateur she beat on her way to earning a spot on the 2012 Olympic team.

“Very seldom do you see someone making their pro debut with this level of fight,” said Mark Taffet, who is Shields’ co-manager. “The idea is to use the first year and make it impactful in a way that hasn’t been done for a female fighter.”

There’s no shortage of big plans for Shields, and seemingly no lack of confidence that the 21-year-old can succeed where other women boxers haven’t. But there’s also no guarantee Shields can be a breakout fighter who can bring the kind of interest to the fractured world of women’s boxing that Ronda Rousey has to the UFC.

It may be a longshot, but that’s not stopping Shields from envisioning women’s boxing having a different future. She believes she can someday headline pay-per-view cards of her own like Ward-Kovalev at the glittering new T-Mobile Arena on the Las Vegas Strip.

“I consider myself a pay-per-view attraction now,” Shields said. “The more you see me box, the more you’ll like me. I want to fight 12 rounds. If a girl could withstand me for 12 rounds, that would be a good fight.”

Shields will make her debut in a four-rounder that won’t be on the pay-per-view portion of the card. Taffet said her bout, expected to take place with few people in the arena, will be streamed online and put on specialty channels in an effort to get people to buy the Kovalev-Ward card.

Crews also will make her pro debut in the fight. She is an eight-time USA Boxing national champion and a silver medalist at the 2012 world championships.

Shields, whose story of rising out of poverty with her fists was the subject of a documentary film after her first gold medal win, said she wants to fight 10 times in the next year to build her resume and get more people interested in her.

“I believe 150 percent in my boxing ability,” she said. “I know I’m a great fighter. I fight better than 90 percent of the men who box now. I just know that, and I’m not at my best yet.”

Shields was miffed after winning her gold medal in London that she didn’t receive the kind of endorsements and attention given gymnast Gabby Douglas. Things were a bit better in Rio, where she became the first American boxer to defend an Olympic title and won the Val Barker Trophy as the tournament’s top overall fighter.

Instead of continuing to draw a $5,000 monthly stipend from USA Boxing to go for a third gold in Tokyo four years from now, though, she decided to turn pro. Despite women’s boxing receiving little attention in recent years and her bout not on pay-per-view, Shields isn’t deterred.

Taffet, who used to be head of pay-per-view for HBO, said he signed on to help manage her because he is a big believer.

“She’s going to make her mark not just on women’s boxing, but all of boxing like the way we’ve seen recently in MMA,” he said. “It’s a new world, and there’s a new sheriff in town.”

MORE: Laila Ali on Shields turning pro

Alina Zagitova hands Yevgenia Medvedeva first loss in 2 years

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Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva is no longer the clear favorite in the Winter Olympics’ marquee event.

The two-time world champion lost for the first time in more than two years, upset by training partner Alina Zagitova at the European Figure Skating Championships in Moscow.

Italian Carolina Kostner earned bronze.

Zagitova, the 15-year-old world junior champion, set personal bests in the short program and free skate and totaled 238.24 points. She beat Medvedeva by 5.38 points.

Medvedeva, in her first competition since November due to a broken foot, fully rotated all of her jumps Saturday, but Zagitova was cleaner. She also stumbled out of a double Axel in her short program.

“I did not feel the injury,” Medvedeva said after the short program, according to the International Skating Union. “Everything has healed.”

Full results are here. NBCSN will air coverage Saturday at 9 p.m. ET.

Zagitova was born three months after the Salt Lake City Olympics and without a name for her first year. Her parents eventually decided on Alina after watching Olympic rhythmic gymnastics champion Alina Kabayeva on TV.

She had been working to this point in her first senior international season. She swept her two fall Grand Prix starts, then won the Grand Prix Final in December, all without Medvedeva in the field.

On Saturday, she landed all of her jumps (including seven triples) in the second half of her program for 10 percent bonuses. It’s the type of technical content layout ambitious enough to challenge Medvedeva.

“I think that Zhenia [Medvedeva] is her role model in life, in behavior, in her way to work,” shared coach Eteri Tutberidze said last year, according to Goldenskate.com. “Alina absolutely tries to copy her way to work, the amount of work and she doesn’t stop. This helps. I can sometimes show Zhenia and say, ‘Look how Alina is working,’ and I tell Alina, ‘Look how Zhenia is working.’”

Medvedeva, whose last defeat was in November 2015, also won both of her Grand Prix starts, posting the world’s highest scores this season, while dealing with foot pain.

She underwent an MRI that revealed a crack, then withdrew from the Grand Prix Final and the Russian Championships in December. She is still expected to be on the Olympic Athlete from Russia team in PyeongChang.

Kostner, the 2014 Olympic bronze medalist who made her Europeans debut in 2003, fell on her opening triple Lutz and landed just three triple jumps Saturday.

She hung on to win a medal at her 11th straight European Championships.

Russian Maria Sotskova, the Grand Prix Final silver medalist, fell on her last triple jump, a Lutz, among other landing troubles. She placed fourth.

Those four skaters are the Olympic medal contenders along with Canadians Kaetlyn Osmond and Gabrielle Daleman and Japanese Satoko Miyahara and Kaori Sakamoto.

U.S. champion Bradie Tennell ranks 14th in the world this season.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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Julia Marino, Hailey Langland qualify for Olympics; U.S. sweeps possible

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The addition of snowboard big air to the Olympics next month means Jamie AndersonJulia Marino and Hailey Langland have two chances for a U.S. podium sweep in PyeongChang.

Marino and Langland qualified for the U.S. big air and slopestyle team Saturday, joining the already qualified Anderson, who won slopestyle’s debut in Sochi.

Anderson, Marino and Langland swept the podium in that order at the last Olympic qualifier in slopestyle in Mammoth Mountain, Calif.

They also made up three of the top four riders at the 2017 X Games big air and slopestyle.

The U.S. has never swept the Winter Olympic medals in a women’s event but could do so in big air, slopestyle and even snowboard halfpipe in PyeongChang.

MORE: U.S. Olympic roster

While Anderson is the veteran, an X Games medalist 11 of the last 12 years, Marino and Langland represent the new wave of U.S. big air and slopestyle riders.

Marino, a 20-year-old from Connecticut who trains in Quebec, earned slopestyle and big air medals at X Games Aspen and Oslo last year in her debuts at those events.

They included slopestyle gold in Aspen over Anderson.

Langland, a 17-year-old from Southern California who plays the ukulele, guitar and piano, won the first X Games women’s big air title last year and took bronze in slopestyle in 2016.

Born in 2000, she is younger than any previous female Olympic snowboarding medalist.

“She reminds me of a younger me,” Anderson said, according to NBC Olympic Research.

The U.S. could add a fourth woman to the big air/slopestyle team, likely either Jessika Jenson or Ty Walker, a pair of 2014 Olympians in slopestyle.

The U.S. men are not as strong internationally in big air and slopestyle, where the Olympic favorites hail from Canada and Norway.

Kyle Mack won the last qualifier Saturday — without the top international riders in the field — to clinch the third and last automatic spot on the men’s big air/slopestyle team.

Chris Corning and Red Gerard previously qualified for PyeongChang. A fourth rider can be added via discretionary selection.

U.S. Olympic Qualifying Standings
Snowboard Big Air/Slopestyle 
(through five of five events)
Three riders auto qualify per gender; one possible discretionary spot
1. Chris Corning — 2,000* QUALIFIED
1. Red Gerard — 2,000* QUALIFIED
3. Kyle Mack — 1,800* QUALIFIED

4. Chandler Hunt — 1,400* (2nd and 3rd)
5. Ryan Stassel — 1,400 (2nd and 3rd)

1. Jamie Anderson — 2,000* QUALIFIED
2. Julia Marino — 1,800* QUALIFIED
3. Hailey Langland — 1,600* QUALIFIED
4. Jessika Jenson — 1,600 (1st and 3rd)
5. Ty Walker — 1,300 (2nd and 4th)
*Has automatic qualifying minimum of one top-three result against entire field.

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