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Katie Taylor: Claressa Shields trying MMA was ‘admirable challenge,’ but ‘love for her just to focus on boxing now’

Claressa Shields took a giant risk when she decided to split her time between boxing and MMA while still in the prime of a championship boxing career that saw her capture two Olympic gold medals and professional titles across three weight classes.

It remains to be seen whether that risk will pay off. Shields has been shaky in her first two MMA bouts and suffered a split decision loss to Abigail Montes at a PFL event in October.

One of Shields’ contemporaries on the women’s pound-for-pound list in boxing, Irish champion Katie Taylor, is impressed with Shields’ willingness to take the leap into MMA when countless other boxers have balked. She knows it’s not an easy thing to do. Still, Taylor admitted recently that she hopes Shields’ MMA experiment is a short one.

“I definitely didn’t expect that,” Taylor said earlier this month on The MMA Hour when asked about Shields switching over to MMA. “But I thought it was a fantastic challenge for her to take on, because boxing and MMA are two completely different sports. It’s very, very hard for anyone in boxing to cross over, because obviously we have no ground game.

“If anybody got me to the ground, for example, it would be a huge problem for me. I think obviously you always have a puncher’s chance maybe, but it’s a priority — it’s very, very hard to stay on your feet. So I think it was an admirable challenge for her to take on. But I would love for her just to focus on boxing now.”

Shields (1-1 MMA) is widely considered to be one of the greatest boxers of her era. In addition to the gold medals she won at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games, Shields has captured professional titles in the light middleweight, middleweight, and super middleweight divisions, and is the only boxer in history — regardless of gender — to hold boxing’s four major titles simultaneously in two different weight classes.

At age 26, Shields is essentially in the peak years of her athletic career — and Taylor believes Shields could do more good for women’s boxing than she could for MMA.

“There’s a lot of big fights out there for her,” Taylor said.

“The likes of Savannah Marshall, who’s a fantastic world champion fighter, and I think Savannah actually beat her as an amateur fighter, so that is a huge, huge, huge fight for them. It’s probably one of the biggest fights in women’s boxing.”

Shields is currently scheduled to defend her middleweight belts on January 29 against undefeated Slovenian champion Ema Kozin, so it’s not as if her boxing days are behind her.

Still, Taylor and Shields do agree on at least one thing. Both women have been vocal critics regarding the unequal standards and conditions in women’s boxing compared to their male counterparts, and both have championed the need for promoters to focus more on giving female boxers adequate opportunities.

“Actually the first meeting that I ever had with [boxing promoter] Eddie Hearn just before I turned pro was, I wanted to take women’s boxing to where women’s MMA had gone,” Taylor said, “where they’re actually headlining shows, where they’re actually the biggest names in the UFC, the likes of Ronda Rousey, Amanda Nunes. These kind of fighters are absolutely headline acts, and that’s exactly where I wanted women’s boxing to go.

“And I think we have broken a lot of boundaries over these last few years, we have covered a lot of ground. But we still obviously have a long way to go.”