Claressa Shields Has Lofty Goals As An MMA Crossover Star – The Undefeated
Claressa Shields often becomes emotional when a conversation leads to her greatest inspiration: her late grandmother, Joanne Adams.
It was Adams’ support that led Shields to become the first double Olympic boxing gold medalist and a current champion in two weight classes. Adams also fueled Shields’ drive to fight for women’s equality in a male-dominated sport.
“My grandmother is part of this [the motivation]”Shields said.” And also being in the gym with the guys growing up, I did the same kind of work as them, just like I did professionally. I accomplished a lot. J worked hard, but it’s like I don’t have much [financially] show for it.
Which brings us here.
Shields’ take on the inequalities in women’s boxing versus men’s boxing led her to sign a three-year deal last fall with the Professional Fighters League (PFL), where she will make her debut in the Mixed Martial Arts vs. Brittney Elkin Thursday in Atlantic City, New Jersey (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2).
Ultimately, his plan is to hold boxing and MMA titles simultaneously to help elevate his brand and strengthen his bank account. The most Shields made in a single fight is around $ 300,000. Winning in the PFL playoff format could potentially offer him his biggest paycheck at $ 1 million.
And, unlike boxing, women are regularly on pay-per-view in mixed martial arts.
“I made the decision not to wait until boxing to miraculously realize that women’s boxing is important,” Shields said, “and that Claressa Shields is a once-in-a-lifetime athlete.”
Shields’ boxing journey began in her hometown of Flint, Michigan, where she was introduced to the sport by her father Bo. She trained at Berston Field House under coach Jason Crutchfield and rose through the amateur ranks. She won her first Olympic gold medal in 2012 in London and became the first boxer, male or female, to win a second gold in 2016 in Argentina.
Shields, 77-1 as an amateur, turned pro the same year. Her 2017 televised fight on Showtime was the first time a women’s fight was the main event on American television. During her 11-0 professional career, she is the WBC, WBO, IBF and WBA unified champion at 154 pounds. She had previously unified the four main sanctioning body belts to 160.
Despite all her success, Shields, who calls herself the GWOAT (The Greatest Woman of All Time), was still not satisfied due to the lack of financial opportunities for women compared to their male counterparts. Limited exposure equals limited cash flow. Of course, she understands: Shields isn’t asking for the same dollars as champions Errol Spence Jr., Canelo Alvarez, or even what retired champion Floyd Mayweather ordered. But for women to earn something close to this type of income, she said, boxing can at least start with equal promotional strategies.
“Networks build men by putting them under the map of Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder or Manny Pacquiao, and that’s how you learn more about some of the fighters in the making,” Shields said. “When do you see women getting this kind of exposure? “
Shields and his manager Mark Taffet began talks about transitioning to mixed martial arts 18 months ago. They set her the goal of becoming a champion in each sport simultaneously and making a statement on financial equality for women.
“Billie Jean King and Muhammad Ali made big impactful and social statements for women and African Americans, respectively,” Taffet said. “Claressa is one of those unique athletes. The weight she will carry on her shoulders will have a future impact on all women and for all athletic women.
The PFL uses a regular season and playoff format, with the annual division champions taking home a prize of $ 1 million. The PFL 2021 season began in April, so Shields’ fight is not part of the one-season competitive format. It plans to enter in 2022.
If Shields is successful, it could open up mega-fights against UFC Champion Amanda Nunes or PFL’s Kayla Harrison, which in turn could elevate her boxing matches with a subsequent MMA.
“Boxing is his sport and the biggest events and paydays are still in boxing,” Shields promoter Dmitry Salita said. “She has the potential to enhance women’s sport and increase her visibility as a superstar.”
There will be challenges, of course.
There is the question of being accepted by an MMA fan base after coming from another sport. But Shields said the MMA crowd has expressed support on social media, possibly because she was not on a one-fight contract and because she had been training for six months.
“All the MMA fans who thought I was just talking about s- and pursuit of influence are now supporting me,” she said.
Shields is also entering a sport with limited participation of black women and a largely white fan base. These facts do not move Shields.
“Blood, swollen eyes and broken teeth are a junk to many people in African American communities, especially when it comes to women,” Shields said. “But I am a fighter at heart, and I will be accepted like everyone else.”
Super lightweight boxing champion Mary McGee said the same obstacles Shields faced as a woman in boxing are the ones in front of her now.
“She can’t change her skin color or who she is, so she’s going to show off her best talent,” McGee said. “She believes she can do it, and I believe she can do it too. Everyone has their time, and whenever it happens you need to prepare for it – it’s their time now. “
PFL CEO Peter Murray also thinks so, and said his league shares the same values as Shields when it comes to promoting women and equal pay.
“What an incredible opportunity for Claressa on her journey,” said Murray. “It is a privilege to sign it and to inaugurate a new chapter in women’s sport. Her ultimate goal is to get multiple belts, and we’ll see if she has what it takes to get into the cage.
With the exception of former boxing champion Holly Holm, who became a mixed martial arts champion when she knocked out Ronda Rousey in 2015, history tells us that boxers don’t have much success in the field. cage. Boxers Ray Mercer, James Toney and Julius Francis are among the fighters who have not had positive entries in mixed martial arts.
And many boxers have handicapped themselves by entering the sport as a one-time contract and not spending enough time training for the new venture.
But not the Shields. She has been training with some of MMA’s top fighters, including former UFC Champion Jon Jones, at Jackson Wink Gym, a professional MMA training academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico, since December.
“There is a stereotype that boxers don’t do well in MMA, or boxers just want to come in and stand up, or boxers don’t want to work on takedowns or defense,” Shields, 26, said. . “I know what I need to do and I have given myself enough time to prepare for my opponent, and I will do well on June 10.