It’s not getting the attention it deserves because women’s boxing hasn’t been able to break through into the mainstream despite a significant influx in its talent level in the last five years, but what Claressa Shields is attempting is hugely significant.
Shields is a two-time Olympic gold medalist, a three-weight world champion as a pro and an undisputed champion at two weight classes.
She’s at the peak of her powers, regarded as the best in her sport, and yet she’s willingly switching sports midstream.
On Thursday, Shields, a -300 favorite at BetMGM, will make her professional MMA debut in Atlantic City, New Jersey, when she faces Brittney Elkin at PFL 4 on ESPN.
“I just felt like I never got my just due in boxing,” said Shields, who is 11-0 with two KOs as a boxer. “Being a 12-time world champion and about to become a 20-time world champion, it would be very easy for me to do, but what would it do for me? Would it make me a bigger star, a household name or would it make me a millionaire?”
Shields came to the conclusion — correctly — that none of those things would happen, which is perplexing.
Women’s MMA is accepted the same way as men’s MMA is and it’s not a big deal to see women headline the biggest cards.
In women’s boxing, though — particularly in the U.S. — it’s hard to get any traction and few promoters invest in it.
“The truth is, it wouldn’t open up any more doors for more, other than what’s already been opened,” she said. “I would have to keep fighting this way for equal pay and equal opportunity and getting women equal fight time. I’ve been working so hard in boxing for so many years, if I’m going to work so hard at something, at least let me reap what I sow.”
And so she opted to go to MMA, and signed with the PFL. One of the lures is the million dollar prize the PFL gives to each of its champions at the end of the season.
The biggest purse she made in boxing was $350,000, so that was quite a lure.
She’s training at JacksonWink MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and has learned from not only the coaches but former UFC champions Jon Jones and Holly Holm.
If she’s good at MMA, and with her hands and four-ounce gloves on, she has a good head start on it and she could make a fortune. The PFL would salivate over a fight between Shields and Kayla Harrison, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in judo.
A Harrison-Shields fight would be a major event in the fight world should it take place.
Shields is a long way from that point now. She has to prove she can defend takedowns and submission attempts and can absorb kicks. It’s no easy task, which is why this is so rarely done.
Fighting with four-ounce gloves in MMA would be to her advantage as a boxer, but she has to make sure she has the takedown defense to remain on her feet.
“There are so many different ways to win in MMA,” Shields said. “My punching matters, of course, but we have been doing so many other things than just my punching. There have been so many other drills we’ve done than just punching.
“We’ve added more strikes besides my jab and right cross. We added some other strikes, added some takedowns, added some defense. It’s been a lot. I’m looking forward to wearing four-ounces gloves, but I’m going to keep my mind open to using everything to get the W.”
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