For all the accomplishments Claressa Shields has earned during her athletic career, the two-time Olympic gold medalist and multi-weight class boxing world champion may be facing her most daunting challenge to date as she attempts to transition into mixed martial arts.
While sports like wrestling and kickboxing have produced numerous champions across organizations like the UFC, Bellator and PFL, boxers haven’t found the same kind of success.
Of course the list of high level boxers actually attempting to compete in MMA have been few and far between but Shields wants to prove the naysayers wrong as she plots her debut later this year.
“Listen, I’m excited and I’m just ready to prove everybody wrong,” Shields told MMA Fighting. “Not everybody but all the doubters. It seems like everybody keeps saying like ‘oh anybody that’s come from boxing can’t be successful in MMA.’
“Like they say look at James Toney and I kind of laugh cause James Toney was 42 years old. I’m 25. He was also 42 years old and he went in there, I don’t know how long he prepared but he fought against one of the best guys that they had. It’s like not that I wouldn’t do that but I’m preparing. I’m taking it one step at a time.”
Since inking a multi-year deal with the PFL, Shields has already spent time learning from the coaches and fighters at the famed Jackson-Winkeljohn academy in New Mexico where she was working alongside former champions such as Jon Jones and Holly Holm.
She plans on putting in a lot more time working on her MMA skill set before actually setting foot in the cage for the first time because Shields makes it clear that she’s not fighting to be anything less than the best.
“I’m not an egotistic person,” Shields explained. “I am the best woman’s fighter in the world. There is no other woman fighter in boxing that can beat me in boxing, for sure. But going over to a whole other sport and saying that, it’s just not true now. I have to work my way up from the bottom and learn and train and drill.
“Put in that 10,000 hours to be great at something. I haven’t put in that 10,000 hours yet but I’ve put in a hell of a lot of time in just this past week and I’ve got 10 more days to put in more time.”
When it comes to her first appearance in PFL, Shields isn’t rushing into a debut fight but she’s also not going to sit around and wait forever either.
With plans for a boxing match in February, Shields hopes to win and then turn her full attention to MMA with a targeted date already in mind for her first fight.
“We already have a deadline for that,” Shields revealed. “That’s why I’m already working now and learning right now. I’m looking forward to fighting in May-June next year, my MMA pro debut.”
Shields added that she won’t be joining the PFL season until 2022 but at that point she’s gunning for a championship and the $1 million prize that goes along with it.
Once she’s comfortable with a full compliment of skills to put alongside her world-class boxing, Shields plans on facing the best of the best that PFL can throw at her, no matter the name.
“The PFL is all about controlling your own destiny,” Shields said. “So if me and Kayla Harrison is in the same tournament, if we’re in the same season and we both have to fight our way to the top. So who knows who I’ll be fighting against. It may be Kayla, it may not who’ll be in the finals. Cause I envision myself being able to make it to the finals in 2022.”
Shields added that she will be competing at 155 pounds in the PFL with no intention of attempting to cut down to a lower weight class.
Considering she won a pair of Olympic gold medals competing at middleweight (165 pounds) with a recent championship claimed at 154 pounds, it’s doubtful Shields would even attempt to shave off another 10 pounds to fight at featherweight in MMA.
“I’m a 154, 160 and 168 pound fighter in boxing,” Shields said. “So I’m going to fight 155 but UFC doesn’t have 155 and I don’t think that my body can make 145.”