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Top boxers to watch in Rio

Claressa Shields
NBC Sports

Top boxers to watch in Rio

Five boxers you need to know before the Olympics start

With the 2016 Rio Games just days away, here are five athletes to keep an eye on when boxing competition gets underway.

Paddy Barnes, Ireland

Days 1-9 (Aug. 6-14)
Men's light flyweight (49kg/108 lbs)

Two bronze medals in two Olympic appearances have earned Irish boxer Paddy Barnes the nickname "Paddy Bronze" from kids in Belfast, and he is anxious to shed that label by finally bringing home a gold medal from the Rio Games. The light flyweight lost to China's Zou Shiming in the semifinals in 2008 and 2012; Zou went on to win gold both years. Zou has since turned pro, and Barnes now enters Rio as one of the top favorites in his weight class. Barnes will also have the honor of being Ireland's flag bearer during the Opening Ceremony.

Shakur Stevenson, United States

Days 5-15 (Aug. 10-20)
Men's bantamweight (56kg/123 lbs)

Newark, New Jersey's Shakur Stevenson is one of USA Boxing's hottest prospects and will be a gold medal threat in his Olympic debut. Stevenson, who recently turned 19, won gold at the Youth Olympic Games in 2014 and holds a perfect 23-0 international record for his young career. He will be attempting to end the U.S. men's team's 12-year gold medal drought but will likely need to go through experienced fighters such as reigning world champion Michael Conlan of Ireland and 2012 Olympic gold medalist Robeisy Ramirez of Cuba.

Shakur Stevenson, USA Boxing's rising star, eyes gold in Rio

The 19-year old from Newark is bringing an undefeated record and plenty of confidence to this year's Olympic Games.

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Mikaela Mayer, United States

Days 7-14 (Aug. 12-19)
Women's lightweight (60kg/132 lbs)

A former model who did not take up boxing until she was 17 years old, Los Angeles-native Mikaela Mayer is headed to her first Olympics nine years later. She narrowly missed out on a spot on the U.S. Olympic team in 2012, but earned bronze at the world championships as a light welterweight that same year. She could contend for a medal in Rio, through her weight class has been under the control of Ireland's Katie Taylor, the reigning Olympic champion, in recent years.

Former model Mikaela Mayer found life direction in the boxing ring

Mayer had no idea what she was looking for when she took up boxing. Now she's headed to the Olympics with a purpose.

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Muhammad Ali, Great Britain

Days 8-16 (Aug. 13-21)
Men's flyweight (52kg/114.5 lbs)

In 1960, legendary American boxer Muhammad Ali – then known as Cassius Clay – won a gold medal at the Rome Olympics. Fifty-six years later, another Muhammad Ali is heading to the Olympics. The 20-year-old British pugilist may not be related to his namesake, but they will inextricably be linked together. And while the British Ali has a long way to go before reaching the level achieved by the greatest boxer of all time, he is not without accolades. Ali was the 2014 Youth World Championships silver medalist and 2014 Youth Olympic Games bronze medalist, and he is considered a medal contender for the Rio Games.

Claressa Shields, United States

Days 9-16 (Aug. 14-21)
Women's middleweight (75kg/165 lbs)

The most dominant athlete in Olympic-style boxing may be Flint, Michigan's Claressa Shields (pictured up top). Since winning gold at the 2012 Games, Shields has not lost a bout. Her career record now sits at 74-1, and she holds back-to-back world titles from 2014 and 2016. Shields, now 21, is a heavy favorite to win another Olympic title in the middleweight division.

Who is… Claressa Shields

Shields is the 2012 Olympic champion in women's middleweight boxing and the favorite for gold once again in Rio.

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Honorable mentions

Men's boxing: U.S. flyweight Antonio Vargas won gold at last year's Pan American Games. … U.S. light welterweight Gary Russell is the younger brother of current WBC featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr. … Cuban lightweight Lazaro Alvarez and light heavyweight Julio La Cruz are both three-time world champions. … Italian heavyweight Clemente Russo will compete at his fourth Olympics. He owns two silver medals. … Competition was opened up to pros, but only three will compete: light heavyweight Hassan N'Dam of Cameroon, lightweight Amnat Ruenroeng of Thailand and Italian lightweight Carmine Tommasone.

Women's boxing: Reigning Olympic flyweight champion Nicola Adams of Great Britain captured her first world title this year. … Reigning Olympic lightweight champion Katie Taylor of Ireland is back to defend her title, but suffered two losses earlier this year after not losing for five years. … British middleweight Savannah Marshall is the only boxer to record a victory against Claressa Shields.

Nicola Adams will lead Great Britain's largest Olympic boxing team in 32 years

Reigning Olympic and world champion Nicola Adams is among 12 British boxers heading to Rio.

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