Double Olympic champion and world champion in three categories among the pros, Claressa Shields made her MMA debut at the PFL (Professional Fighters League) this Thursday at the Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City against Brittney Elkin (to watch live in the night from Thursday to Friday at midnight on RMC Sport 2). The American fighter, who has been training for months for this, begins a historic quest: to become the first world champion in boxing and MMA simultaneously, a feat that no man or woman has accomplished.
In the ring, she has nothing more to prove. Double Olympic champion (2012 and 2016), a first for the noble American art of all sexes, Claressa Shields is considered one of the two best boxers on the planet with the Irish Katie Taylor. Since her stint with the pros in November 2016, the American (11-0, 2 KOs) has been collecting belts. Until becoming world champion in three categories in ten fights, less time than anyone in the history of the discipline. In her eleventh fight, the last in March 2021, she became the unified and undisputed champion (the four main belts) of the super-welterweights after doing the same in the middleweight in the ninth.
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She was also the unified (two-belt) champion in the super middleweight. Enough to ensure a guaranteed place in the Hall of Fame … in barely four and a half years of professionalism. But what, too, to push her to launch a new challenge: to conquer the world of MMA, with a first fight in the lightweight category this Thursday evening in the “main event” of the PFL evening against her compatriot Brittney Elkin. Nothing new, fans of mixed martial arts will say. The history of MMA, a still young sport, is littered with female fighters who came from another discipline to triumph.
“Do the same in MMA”
There was Ronda Rousey, Olympic medalist in judo turned champion at Strikeforce and big sensation in the UFC. There was Holly Holm, multiple world boxing champion who conquered the roosters belt of MMA’s biggest organization. There was Joanna Jedrzejczyk, world champion in Muay Thai and kickboxing before taking the UFC Straw Throne. There’s Valentina Shevchenko, also a world champion in Muay Thai and kickboxing and now dominating the fly category in the UFC. There is Kayla Harrison, double Olympic judo champion victorious in the lightweight tournament at the PFL in 2019 and big favorite of the 2021 edition. But each time, they had left their first sporting love to marry another. With Claressa Shields, nicknamed “T-Rex” because of her small arms, it’s a different story.
The idea? Become champion in the cage … while continuing to reign between the ropes. A first in history for all sexes. “I am very excited at the idea of cementing my legacy of ‘GWOAT’ (greatest woman of all time, editor’s note), confirmed the interested party in a virtual press conference. PFL and to show the world that I never back down from a challenge. I have already shown that I am the best boxer in the world and I plan to do the same in MMA. My heritage in boxing can never be tarnished seen how much I have already accomplished in the sport. That’s why I wanted to try MMA. Boxing has always been easy for me. I was a complete fighter before I was thirteen-fourteen In MMA I start all over again and ask myself, ‘Are you ready to start from scratch and work to get to the top?’ My answer was: ‘Oh yes!’ It was time to try something new. “
A prestigious room for learning
To achieve her goal, the one who has been talking about her MMA desires for at least two years has taken things by the right end. While the great UFC offered her to join its ranks for an event fight against Queen Amanda Nunes, champion of cocks and feathers, Claressa Shields preferred the PFL to grow at her own pace in her new world, where a whole lot (the sol) was unknown to him. “They didn’t say to me: ‘Hey, come and fight twice with us and then go back to boxing’, she explained to MMA Junkie last December. I’m going to be able to continue boxing and I’m not going to be in a hurry. The PFL said to me: ‘Train yourself, start where you need to be and gradually work your way up’. “
The American will start with off-season PFL fights in 2021 before entering the lightweight tournament (with a million dollars at the end) in 2022. The first stop on her road, Brittney Elkin, 34, 3- 6 in career, who remains on three defeats and has not fought since mid-January 2019, seems perfect to open his column of victories. Elkin, who thought it was a joke when he was told about the fight on … April 1 and prepared by watching Claressa Shields’ boxing matches to study her footwork, had already served as a door to ‘entered MMA at Kayla Harrison in June 2018, for a first-round submission victory for the former judoka.
This first, in the lightweight category, will above all be an opportunity for Claressa Shields to know where she is in her progress and to use the lessons learned over the past seven months at Jackson-Wink MMA, in Albuquerque (New Mexico). , the room – among others – of a certain Holly Holm and the former king of the light heavyweights (who will go up to the heavyweights) Jon Jones. “Any boxer who wants to come to MMA and does not train in other martial arts will always lose, she recalls. Fortunately, I am not like that. The question is not to train but to train properly and Jackson-Wink was a perfect place for that. “
In video, his debut on the ground or in kicks seemed stammering. Logic. “When you start you find yourself lying on your back and you’re like, ‘What am I doing here? What do I have to do?’ She recalls. legs in boxing but we use the upper body more so I had to put all that in place. You have to move from boxing to wrestling and jiu-jitsu. These are different states of mind and you have to be able to Putting them together. It can be very difficult, especially for boxers. The fight came to me quite easily and I mixed the rest afterwards to be the best fighter possible. I do well with my kicks. Same in jiu -jitsu and wrestling. Honestly, I won’t be here to fight if I thought I was at a disadvantage in the cage and was going to lose. “
Holm, “a code to cheat”
“Everyone’s making a big deal out of it because Brittney Elkin is a purple jiu-jitsu belt,” she continues, “but MMA isn’t just jiu-jitsu. It’s boxing, kickboxing, wrestling. It’s all these different arts and people shouldn’t believe in me because I’m not a soil specialist. What matters is who gets the best use of what she can do. Of course, I I’m going to let my fists do the talking because I’m known for that and that’s what I can do best. But I’m now comfortable mixing the different disciplines and having a slightly more complex game plan. I have other tricks up my sleeve besides boxing. “
She also had to adjust to fighting three five-minute rounds instead of ten two-minute rounds between the ropes: “I had to prepare my mind for that. It was the biggest thing to grasp at first, but after doing this for several months, I got it well. But at first, everything that came out of what I know in boxing was difficult. ” Huge advantage in this transition: rubbing shoulders with Holly Holm, referred to as “a code to cheat” in her evolution from ring to cage. “I knew she could help me because she already did, confirms Claressa Shields. We had a lot of discussions and sparring sessions to help me prepare for this fight.” The former UFC Bantamweight champion had spent a little over two years juggling boxing and MMA between 2011 and 2013. But the gap between her last world title from one of the four major organizations in boxing (WBC belt welterweight) and his UFC coronation was over seven years.
Still unified and undisputed champion of the super-welterweights and multiple world champion in the middle (she has the belt The Ring in the two, considered by many to be the more legitimate), Claressa Shields will seek to do better by reigning in parallel. What to make nervous when starting the trip? “I’m not because I’m ready,” she replies. “If this fight had taken place four or five months ago, I would have been like ‘Oh my God!’ because I had not immersed myself in it yet. Now that I have been doing this for seven months, I have practiced enough and had enough time to understand what I was doing, to understand what I needed for this fight . I’m very comfortable going into this fight. I’m not nervous but excited. “
At twenty-six, she embarked on the adventure early enough to succeed. With her incredible boxing qualities, the one whose debut is the most anticipated in women’s MMA since those of Kayla Harrison (whom she might not meet at the PFL because the latter is at the end of her contract at the end of the year) will be able to sleep any opponent with his fists. Her ability to master the ground game, jiu-jitsu, wrestling, the defense of takedowns, will be the central point in making her a champion in her new discipline. Will it be able to reach the sufficient level? To have. But the question intrigues seen as the young woman, who never hesitates to engage in the battle for equality of treatment between the sexes and who has everything to become a huge star if she takes up this challenge, dominates in the rings . Where the one who organized the pay-per-view of her last fight will return – everyone is waiting for a clash against the Briton Savannah Marshall, the unbeaten WBO middleweight champion among the pros and who suffered her only defeat among the amateurs – but only with “fair treatment”.
“They don’t think a word about it …”
“They are sexist and they can’t handle strong women,” she said to the New York Times in March about broadcasters in boxing. They always talk about equal pay, equal opportunity, but they don’t think a word about it. All they would have to do is say yes, say, ‘We’re going to put women’s boxing on all the cards.’ It would help to develop us. But they won’t. “In MMA, where women have a much bigger place and can be paid (much) better, Claressa Shields knows she can get bigger checks. Be more in the spotlight, too. .
Amanda Serrano, unified featherweight champion and world champion in seven categories (a record for women), and Heather Hardy, former world feather champion, have for example also switched to MMA alongside boxing for this event. reason (1-0-1 in MMA for Serrano, who fights this Friday at IFF 7 in Mexico, and 2-2 for Hardy). His challenge is a sporting challenge with a share of financial motivation. But how can you blame the one who saw YouTuber Logan Paul touch more in one night than she ever touched to step into a ring despite her arm-length track record?