« It’s her time now »: Claressa Shields aims high as a crossover MMA star

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Claressa Shields often gets emotional when conversation leads to her greatest inspiration: her late grandmother, Joanne Adams.

It was Adams’ support that led Shields to become the first two-time Olympic gold medalist in boxing and a current one To become champion in two weight classes. Adams also aroused the will in Shields to advocate equality for women in a male-dominated sport.

« My grandmother is part of it [the motivation], » Shields said. “And even in the gym with the guys who grew up, I did the same kind of work that they did, just like I did for a job. I’ve achieved a lot. I’ve worked hard, but it’s like I didn’t have a lot to show [financially] for it. ”

Shield’s views on the inequality in women’s boxing versus men’s boxing led her to sign a three-year contract with Professional Fighters last fall League (PFL) where she will make her mixed martial arts debut against Brittney Elkin, New Jersey (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2) on Thursday in Atlantic City.

Ultimately, her plan is to box and at the same time Hold MMA titles to build your brand and boost your bank account. Most of what Shields made in a single fight is around $ 300,000. Winning the PFL playoff format could potentially bring her the biggest payday of $ 1 million.

« I made a decision that I won’t wait for boxing to miraculously realize that Women’s boxing is important, « said Shields, » and that Claressa Shields is a one-off athlete. « Shields’ boxing journey began in her home town 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 to the amateur ranks. She won her first Olympic gold medal in London in 2012 and was the first female boxer to win a second gold medal in Argentina in 2016.

Shields, 77-1 as an amateur, turned pro that same year. Her fight on TV in 2017 on Showtime marked the first time a women’s fight was the main event on American television. In the course of her 11-0 professional career, she is the combined WBC, WBO, IBF and WBA champion at £ 154. She had previously combined all four of the major sanction body girdles with 160.

Despite all of her success, Shields, who calls herself the GWOAT (Greatest Woman of All Time), was still unsatisfied as women compared to their males Colleagues had no financial means. Limited exposure equates to limited cash flow. Sure, she gets it: Shields doesn’t charge the same dollars as champions like Errol Spence Jr., Canelo Alvarez, or even what retired champion Floyd Mayweather ordered. But in order for women to get anywhere near that income, boxing can start with at least some of the same promotional strategies.

« The networks are built by the men putting them on the sub-map of Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder, or Manny Pacquiao, and that’s how you meet some of the aspiring fighters, » said Shields. “When do you see women getting this type of exposure?”

Shields and her manager Mark Taffet began discussions about transitioning to mixed martial arts 18 months ago. They have set themselves the goal of becoming a champion in every sport at the same time and making a statement on financial equality for women.

« Billie Jean King and Muhammad Ali have made very effective and social statements for women and African Americans », said Taffet. “Claressa is one of those unique athletes. The weight that she carries on her shoulders will affect all women and all women in sport in the future. « 

The PFL uses a regular season and playoff format, in which the annual division champions receive prize money of 1 Million US dollars received. The 2021 PFL season started in April, so the Battle of Shields is not part of the cross-season competition format. She wants to get in in 2022.

If Shields is successful, it could open megafights against UFC champions Amanda Nunes or Kayla Harrison from PFL, who in turn could increase their boxing matches with an MMA following.

« Boxing is their sport and the biggest events and paydays are still in boxing, » said Shields promoter Dmitry Salita. « She has the potential to improve women’s sport and increase her visibility as a superstar. »

It’s about being accepted by an MMA fan base after coming out of another sport. But Shields said the MMA crowd expressed their support on social media, maybe because they don’t have a one-fight deal and they’ve been training for six months.

« All the MMA fans who thought I’m just talking about hunting and punching, support me now, ”she said.

Shields is also entering a sport with limited participation of black women and a largely white fan base. These facts don’t move Shields.

« The blood, puffy eyes, and broken teeth are a deterrent for many people in African American communities, especially when it comes to women, » Shields said. “But I’m a fighter at heart and I’m accepted like everyone else.”

Super-lightweight boxing champion Mary McGee said the same obstacles Shields faced as a woman in boxing are now in front of her lie.

« She can’t change the color of her skin or personality, so she’ll show off her best talent, » said McGee. “She believes she can, and I believe she can too. Everyone has their time, and whenever it comes you have to be prepared for it – it is your time now. « 

That is what PFL CEO Peter Murray believes and said his league shares the same values ​​as Shields when it does is about promoting women and equal pay.

« What an incredible opportunity for Claressa on her journey, » said Murray. “It is a privilege to sign them and to usher in 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. ”

Except for former boxing champion Holly Holm, who became a mixed martial arts champion in 2015 when she defeated Ronda Rousey, history tells us that caged boxers don’t have much success. Boxers Ray Mercer, James Toney and Julius Francis are among those fighters who did not have a positive entry into mixed martial arts.

And many boxers have handicapped themselves by entering the sport once and not spending enough time training on the new company.

But no shields. She has been training with some of the best MMA fighters, including former UFC Champion Jon Jones, at Jackson Wink Gym, a professional MMA training academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico, since December.

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« There’s a stereotype that boxers don’t do well in MMA, or boxers just want to come in and get up, or boxers don’t want to work on takedowns or defenses, » said Shields, 26. « I know what I need to do and I’ve given myself enough time to prepare for my opponent and I’ll do well on June 10th. ”

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