Claressa Shields seeks double undisputed glory, determined to make a mark on MMA
In Claressa Shields’ immediate future is her fight against Marie-Eve Dicaire for the undisputed women’s junior middleweight world championship, but she also has designs on being a two-sport star.
Besides boxing, Shields is also preparing for her MMA debut in the Professional Fighters League in June.
As a boxer, the two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist already has a glossy professional resume. She is a reigning unified junior middleweight titleholder, the reigning unified middleweight champion (previously undisputed) and a former unified super middleweight titlist.
Shields will bring her two 154-pound belts, Canada’s Dicaire will bring one, and the vacant Ring Magazine and WBA titles will also be at stake when they square off in the main event of the all-female “Superwomen” card on Friday (PPV and FITE, 9 p.m. ET) at the Dort Federal Credit Union Event Center, where a limited number of fans will be permitted, in Flint, Michigan, Shields’ hometown.
The fight was originally scheduled to take place last May 9 as a Showtime-televised main event at the same arena in Flint before it was called off due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In the ensuing months, the 25-year-old Shields, who had been thinking about pursuing a second career in MMA, went for it, announcing her plans in December.
Shields’ decision was made easier when Showtime failed to reschedule her fight with Dicaire. In July, the network announced that in its return to boxing after months with no fights because of the pandemic that it would air eight cards between August and December, including rescheduling several fights that had been postponed because of the coronavirus. Shields’ fight was not one of them, upsetting her and her team.
“I was just as surprised as you guys were,” Shields told The Ring. “From my knowledge I was supposed to fight in September, actually on September 26. That was the date the Charlo brothers fought on. I was promised that date. After the announcement I was promised October 2 and still nothing transpired and they couldn’t give me anything until 2021.”
She said she expressed her disappointment to Showtime.
“I don’t even let myself think about that. I had been in camp the whole time,” Shields said. “I was making sure I stayed ready because they had a date ready for me and then, boom! They have all these male fighters on and we can’t get you on. It was very disappointing. But they’re putting women on the backburner. It was embarrassing and also hurtful but there’s nothing I can do about it.”
It hasn’t soured her on boxing, however. She is quick to point out that she has no plans whatsoever to give up the sport. Instead, she plans to work MMA into her schedule.
“It was something that I knew was going to happen,” Shields said. “I just didn’t know when and the conversations with the PFL just kind of motivated me to do it. It was a great conversation. It wasn’t about just making this a grab. It was about let’s make this a career, let’s actually sign a lucrative deal and actually start getting ready. That was something I was every interested in.”
Shields said MMA is a long-term play for her to go along with boxing. Besides whatever PFL bouts she will have this year as he gets used to the sport, she plans to compete in the PFL’s league schedule in 2022 and put herself in position to win the $1 million prize in the promotion’s 155-pound women’s lightweight division. That is just one pound north of where she currently boxes.
“That was something that also made me want to do it too,” Shields said of the prize money.
“I wanted to challenge myself. Money is always great, let’s not get that wrong, but it was more just to prove that I am one of the greatest athletes.”
There have been few successful two-sport athletes. Two of the most famous are Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders, who were both superstars in baseball and football, and she wants to be like them.
“That’s what my goal is,” Shields said. “I think that it’s fair to say it takes a whole lot of hard work to be great in two different sports, especially two different combat sports. But if anybody can do it, I can do it.”
Before agreeing to a contract with PFL, Shields said there were conversations with UFC, the most well-known MMA promotion. But she said her goals in MMA were more aligned with PFL’s ideas than the way UFC envisioned her as a mixed martial artist.
“The conversation with the UFC was more like come over here, fight this girl and then go back to boxing,” Shields said. “With the PFL it wasn’t the same conversation. It was more like about making MMA be like a career — start from the bottom and build myself up. So, that’s what it was about with the PFL – equal treatment and also about being able to fight for the $1 million. That was something I was interested in also.
“UFC was more of a one-off, like a grab-and-go type of deal and I kind of wanted to make MMA be a part of my resume and be a part of my legacy. Having just one (MMA) fight was not something I was interested in.”
Although Shields is already widely considered one of the pound-for-pound best women’s boxers in the world – she ranks No. 2 on The Ring list – she is a mere novice in MMA and learning the ropes, including with training assistance from UFC legend Jon Jones.
Her boxing trainer is John David Jackson but she spent time with Jones training with him at his gym in Albuquerque, New Mexico, while also still doing her boxing workouts.
“In boxing I train two or three times a day so that doesn’t change. In MMA it’s more strategic — two hours for jiu-jitsu, two hours for Muay Thai and two hours for kicking. Everything kind of goes together but there’s time to work on things individually.
“I’m working on my weaknesses and my weaknesses are, of course, jiu-jitsu, wrestling and the kicking. So, I am just working on those areas. And we have time where we mix everything together and make it all work together to where I can use my boxing, kicking and Muay Thai. There are a lot of different muscles you use.”
Shields said she believes she has adapted well in the months that she has been working on the different kinds of combat employed in MMA.
“I shock myself with my athletic ability because I really didn’t know I’d be able to kick that high or do certain things and now I’m seeing that I can,” Shields said. “I’m seeing that I can kick very high and I can jump very high. This is with muscles I haven’t used in a very long time. There’s also a different stance so you can generate more power off your kicks than you can do from a boxing stance. So that’s a change.
“I’m enjoying it a lot. I’m enjoying learning. I’m just getting comfortable being uncomfortable. I’m learning a lot about wrestling and I like wrestling more than I thought.”
Shields (10-0, 2 KOs), who has not fought since winning a pair of vacant junior middleweight world titles by shutout decision over Ivana Habazin in January 2020, is, of course, focused on her fight with Dicaire (17-0, 0 KOs), 34, of Canada, who will be the first southpaw Shields will face as a professional.
But she is also excited about her impending PFL debut, where she hopes to eventually face Kayla Harrison, 30, who was a 2012 and 2016 U.S. Olympic judo gold medalist. Harrison (8-0 in MMA) won the PFL lightweight championship in 2019, but the 2020 season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“People look at Kayla Harrison and I’d love to make a fight with her,” Shields said. “I think that fight is possible. And there are other good girls at that weight. We just have to learn about them and see them. I’m looking forward to all of it.”
She is not at all concerned about spreading herself too thin by balancing a championship boxing career with a fledgling one in another combat sport.
“Boxing is simple for me. It always has been,” Shields said, speaking with her usual confidence. “Give me four to six weeks to get ready and I’ll get ready and I’ll do what I do.”
Fans can order Shields-Dicaire on PPV through their existing cable & satellite providers, including Xfinity, Spectrum, Contour, DirecTV/U-Verse, Dish, Fios, and Optimum, among others. SUGGESTED RETAIL PRICE: $29.99.