Claressa Shields isn’t making the move from boxing to MMA just for a paycheck.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist, who is widely regarded as the top pound-for-pound women’s boxer in the world right now, didn’t decide to test her skills in MMA so she could simply get more attention.
Instead, Shields opted to pursue a career in MMA because she truly wanted to prove she’s the greatest combat athlete in history and that will take time.
She needs to learn the sport, which means incorporating elements of wrestling and grappling not to mention the addition of kicks to her striking arsenal as well as defensive tactics. Shields has already started working with legends like Jon Jones and Holly Holm but she’s realistically still a novice when it comes to her overall knowledge, which is why she’s not rushing into a fight against another top-ranked opponent for her debut.
In fact, Shields explains how that played a major factor in her decision to ink a multi-year deal to join the PFL versus signing with the UFC, which seemed to be the most likely landing spot after she attended a couple of events and even befriended UFC president Dana White.
“It was just the conversation. It wasn’t like ‘hey come and train a few months and then fight against the best girl we have at your weight,’” Shields explained when speaking to MMA Fighting. “I feel like that’s unfair to me. It’s not giving me enough time to learn. If you’re talking about letting me train for two years and then fight against the best girl you have, all right cool.
“The conversation with Dana [White] was almost like a one-fight deal kind of a little bit. With the PFL it was more like ‘let’s train, let’s start you off at this level and as you work your way up, the competition will get harder’ and then I would have a chance to fight in the PFL season in 2022. Also, too, I would be able to box also, too. So my boxing career isn’t just over because I’m doing MMA. I actually have a boxing match in February. It just hasn’t been announced yet. I still get to box and I’m not being rushed.”
Make no mistake, Shields isn’t getting paid pennies by the PFL so it’s not like she’s missing out on a massive payday by not joining the UFC but the upstart promotion defined by a season-long format capped off by playoffs and a million-dollar championship is looking at her like a long-term investment.
From the sound of things that wasn’t exactly the same idea that the UFC had in mind for Shields, which helped make her decision that much easier.
“It was a lucrative deal and a lucrative conversation,” Shield said. “It was a three-year deal. It’s like ‘hey you come over here and fight two times and then go back to boxing.’ I’m a conqueror in everything I do and I’m a winner. So I want to put myself in a position to always win.”
In addition to PFL giving her the time to make the most of this opportunity, Shields has also enjoyed the attention she’s received since her signing was first announced.
Despite a long list of accolades, Shields struggled to earn high-profile fights on marquee cards in boxing.
Meanwhile, MMA has become a standard-bearer for equal treatment for women’s athletes alongside their male counterparts, especially with superstars like Ronda Rousey pulling in huge numbers on pay-per-view while being touted as one of the highest paid athletes on the entire UFC roster.
In PFL, two-time Olympic gold medalist Kayla Harrison has quickly become the face of the organization while also earning one of the highest paychecks of anybody on the entire roster outside of the money she earned while winning a seasonal championship.
“I’ve gained over 22 or 23,000 followers via social media and on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. All my numbers have went up,” Shields said. “I think I’ve been trending on Twitter. I’ve been trending on Google for the past three days. Just the support the MMA world has been giving me just transitioning over. There’s been some haters, for sure, but there are more people giving me support. I get the support in boxing but also, too, the opportunities just aren’t there.
“I haven’t fought since January. You see all these other guys, small time fighters who aren’t world champions fighting but these networks are giving me trouble about me being on the card. Giving me problems and not treating me equally.”
Shields points to women’s boxing in the U.K. as an example where the athletes are treated better in regards to high-profile opportunities that just aren’t made available to the fighters in the U.S.
Even that doesn’t compare to MMA where it’s a rarity for an event to happen without at least one women’s fight on the card much less the sheer number of shows where a women’s fight sits at the top in the main or co-main event.
It’s one of many reasons why Shields is anxious to make her MMA debut while still hoping to serve as an agent for change when it comes to women’s boxing in the U.S.
“On every MMA card, you see women on the card,” Shields said. “They don’t have to be main event but you see women be the main event, co-main event, be the undercard, you just see women fighting. In boxing in the U.S.A., you’ll see me fighting on TV. You’ll see Mikaela Mayer fight on TV and she’s fighting on ESPN.
“But Premier Boxing Champions don’t have not one female fighter signed to their stable. DAZN has all the girls in the U.K. but here in the U.S. it’s really just me and Mikaela and maybe Amanda Serrano but she still has a hard time getting fights and getting put on TV networks. I’m not the only female going through this. There’s lots of females in America who are going through this.”
It’s doubtful Shields will suffer those same kinds of problems when she makes her PFL debut, which is why she’s pouring everything into her preparation before finally setting foot inside that cage.
“That’s why I’m here in Albuquerque with some of the best fighters and some of the best trainers,” Shields said. “I feel like I’ve been able to spend three hours in the cage just learning from ‘Jonny Bones’ and just drilling with him and I spent two hours to an hour with Holly Holm working on some kicks. She kicks so fast and so hard. It’s just showing me what the real deal stuff is.”