Claressa Shields is looking to make a lot of history in 2020 — in the boxing ring, and in the world of mixed martial arts.
Shields has the opportunity to become a three-division world boxing champion and do so faster than any fighter in history when she faces Ivana Habazin on Jan. 10 for the vacant WBC and WBO 154-pound titles. The event will take place at Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, N.J. and will air on Showtime.
In addition to adding to her extensive boxing resume — which includes winning back-to-back Olympic gold medals and being the undisputed middleweight world champion — Shields is looking to make a transition into MMA. The 24-year-old is certainly not looking past the task at hand on Jan. 10, but when the fight is over, Shields is ready to start on another combat sports chapter.
In fact, to get off and running, Shields said she will work with the current UFC light heavyweight champion, and a man most consider to be the greatest mixed martial artist of all-time in Albuquerque, N.M.
“I’m starting my training this year, 2020,” Shields told BJPENN.com. “I’ve been able to catch on to things very fast, learn and I’ve had some great people who have reached out to me. I’ll be going to camp with Jon Jones, I believe, at the end of February just to see if I can get into the whole training thing and do what he does because he’s so great. I’m looking forward to it.
“I’ve already had my wrestling done with Adaline Gray who was an Olympic wrestler, multiple time world champion wrestler. We did some work together and she was shocked at how quick I caught on to landing a takedown and avoiding a takedown. She was putting everything in my head right there and I thought it would be the worst training ever because I hate when people grab me — just in boxing, being a boxer you want to be free and loose to punch — but when we were working, I wasn’t irritated when she was grabbing me. If you teach me how to have some defense, and how I can get the takedown myself, I’m perfectly fine. I don’t like going into anything blind. I learned a lot and I have plenty of video in case I forget, but I’m ready to get super consistent with it.”
With a victory on Jan. 10, Shields will have captured world titles in three different weigh classes in just 10 pro fights, two less than Vasyl Lomachenko who currently holds that honor. After having such success in the boxing world, what would motivate one of the sport’s rising stars into making the switch at such a young age and well before her athletic prime?
“I would say the motivation is success,” Shields said. “Just being able to say that I did both: I had enough heart to do boxing and be the best in that, and then I came over to MMA and I kicked ass over here, that’s more of the motivation for me.”
In 2019, Shields began to express interest in competing in MMA, and having a fight with Amanda Nunes, the current UFC women’s bantamweight and featherweight champion. Nunes is widely considered the greatest female MMA fighter of all-time, and one of the best pound-for-pound fighters regardless of gender.
For Shields, it was after Nunes made her own history in the UFC — along with some chatter from the media — that lead “T-Rex” to begin thinking about a fight, or multiple fights, with “The Lioness”.
“I remember when Amanda Nunes knocked out Cris Cyborg and, I don’t know who said it, but they said, ‘Amanda Nunes has the best hands that we’ve seen in any sport, boxing or MMA,’ and I was like, ‘No! We are not going to do that. We are not going to say that Amanda Nunes has better hands than me,'” Shields said. “I’m a two-time Olympic gold medalist in boxing. I just wasn’t going to settle for that. That’s why I wanted to have a fight with her in boxing because when she beats girls in the UFC, the majority [of her wins] are with her hands. She knocked out Cris Cyborg with one punch. For me, I want to get in there and fight her because of that.”
Following her successful title defense against Germaine de Randamie at UFC 245 last month, Nunes was asked about a doing a combat series of sorts with Shields; fighting once in the boxing ring, once in the Octagon. Nunes, almost agitated at the multiple questions, said: “I’m an MMA fighter. Why she wants to take me from my sport? If she wants to fight me, come to my world. It doesn’t make any sense. I respect her as a boxer, but I’m an MMA fighter. I don’t like to fight boxing. I like MMA. I like what I did today. If she handles that for five rounds, come see me.”
Shields, who was in attendance for UFC 245 and even spoke with media during the event, suggested the two-fight series. Shields still believes that is the right way to go about it, but can understand why Nunes would be hesitant to jump into the boxing world at this time.
In addition, Shields took offense to Nunes saying she would “wrestle the s**t out of” her and end the potential fight with a submission.
“MMA contains boxing, boxing doesn’t contain MMA,” Shields said. “That’s why I thought the fight would be more fair with boxing. I can understand her feeling like she’s coming in at a disadvantage in boxing, so that’s why I said I would gladly learn some jiu-jitsu and some wrestling, and I already know how to box. So I would get in the cage and do it on that side just to make it fair because Mayweather beat up McGregor in boxing, but who knows how Mayweather would do in the cage against McGregor? I feel like I’m young enough to take the time to learn these things and actually get in there and win. I don’t go into nothing like, ‘hopefully I win’, I’m going in there looking for 100-percent win factor.
“Me watching Amanda Nunes cage-side, I can tell you that I’m way faster than her, I’m in way better shape than her and I can probably punch harder than her, too because I’m coming down from 160,” Shields continued. “That’s why I said we should make the fight happen. Now, all of a sudden, she’s saying boxing isn’t her thing, she doesn’t like boxing all of a sudden. How can you say you don’t like boxing when you clearly knock girls out in MMA? You’re knocking girls out with your hands. It was kind of confusing and it shows where her heart is at. Then she went into the whole, ‘I’ll drag her down to the ground and I’ll submit her’, she’s gonna have to back all that s**t up once I start learning some s**t. I’m not going to take that lightly.
“That’s my motivation; her saying that she’ll submit me and she’ll choke me out instead of boxing me in MMA. Now I’m excited to learn some stuff so that doesn’t happen and I’m gonna give her the hardest challenge of her life if we ever do fight — in boxing, or MMA, or both.”
Nunes has been unbeatable in the UFC over the last several years, while Shields has been the same in the boxing ring. If a fight with Nunes were to come to fruition down the road, Shields feels she already holds a psychological advantage against the dual UFC champion.
“Just the fact that she already said no says that I’m already in her head,” Shields said. “She knows that she can’t beat me in boxing and now, even going inside the cage, she’s going to have that in her head as well, ‘I can’t beat her in boxing, I have to take her to the ground and try to wrestle her’. That’s gonna be her downfall because I know her game plan now. She should’ve just kept it to herself.
“I’m taking this very serious and she’s going to have to back up everything she’s said. You’re gonna choke me out, you’re gonna submit me? I want to see her do it.”
With Nunes not seeming all that enthused about a fight with Claressa Shields, the two-time Olympic gold medalist isn’t going to play the waiting game in terms of getting her MMA career off and running. Shields says she has multiple suitors across the sport that have inquired about her services and hopes to make a decision soon on a landing spot.
“Even if I don’t fight Amanda Nunes, I’ll still be coming to MMA and doing something,” Shields stated. “We’ve been in talks with the UFC, PFL, Bellator, ONE Championship, we’ve been in touch with all of them. We’re getting close to coming to a deal with somebody. We don’t know yet, we’re just trying to weigh our options and see who’s got the best offer, and who’s got my weight class. I think 155 would be healthier for me, but I can make any weight class that I want to make as long as it’s not under 145. I’m just more comfortable at 155. I’m definitely going to try my luck in MMA, not just luck, I’m definitely going to try my skills in MMA. I’m gonna learn it because I hate to lose.”
One potential matchup that seemed to make a lot of sense, as well as having multiple storylines attached to it — including Olympic pedigree — would be with current PFL women’s lightweight champion Kayla Harrison. Along with the gold medal accolades both fighters possess, Harrison fights in a weight class that would likely be more suitable for Shields, who typically fights around the 160-pound mark.
For those hoping to see that fight in the PFL cage, Shields said it would be very unlikely due to their friendship that has lasted more than a decade.
“Kayla is my sister,” Shields said. “I’m sorry, I love Kayla to death. Me and her have talked before and we got interviewed about this together. I love Kayla and I was cheering for her die-hard the other night when she won the $1 million and became the PFL champion at 155. That’s not somebody who I see myself fighting because it would be hard to get up for that fight. Girls who I fight, you kind of got something against them but Kayla is a good friend since we were 11, been to multiple Olympics together, and we’ve always been super supportive of each other. It would be hard to make a fight between us.
“I just don’t see myself fighting her and that’s not out of fear, that’s out of love. She’s like a friend forever. That’s like you saying me fighting Cris Cyborg, I don’t think that would ever happen. I don’t get beefed out with people that I consider a friend.”
In the era of prize fighting, of course Shields wants to make her transition into a new combat sport as lucrative as possible while competing in the biggest fights possible. The current two-division world boxing champion is also a realist and knows that she just can’t walk in from the boxing world and fight someone like an Amanda Nunes in her debut fight.
Shields is willing to put in the work and build up to that caliber of a fight.
“I want to fight the best,” Shields said. “[At the same time] I still have to build myself up because if a girl came to boxing, and she didn’t have any experience, she’d get killed. She’d get demolished, right? I feel like I have the same respect for MMA. I’m not gonna go in there without any fights and fight Amanda Nunes. I’m gonna go get my feet wet, fight against some girls who know jiu-jitsu, know how to wrestle, know how to punch and see how I fare against them before I get in there with the big dogs. But I’m not gonna wait forever to get in there with the big dogs. I’ll fix my mistakes from the previous fight, get better, learn more and just start getting into it.
“The main thing is to start my training and make sure I enjoy getting kicked in the face and the whole elbowing thing — if I can even learn how to elbow somebody, that’s illegal in boxing. I’ll have to get used to that, the backhands, the slamming, all illegal. I need to cut some things out of the boxing training for MMA where it’s mostly anything goes — outside of biting people in the ear.”
With boxing history looming in a little over a week’s time, Claressa Shields has to accomplish that goal of dethroning Lomachenko as the fastest to becoming a three-division world champion before she can make the move from between the ropes, to between the links. One thing is for certain in the mind of Shields: she will unequivocally make her MMA debut, and will do so before this new year comes to an end.
“The debut is definitely coming in 2020, towards the end of the year,” Shields said. “I know that when I start dedicating myself, I’ll want to be the best I can be. I’ll definitely want to get my feet wet and I know my boxing surpasses all of the girls in any of the MMA organizations. I’m a street fighter, too. Don’t let my boxing fool you, I get down with the get down, and get up with the get up. I’m just gonna learn all of the techniques but I think it will be an easy transition for me because of the way that I box. Holly Holm and I are two different boxers. She was a boxer who moves and wasn’t that aggressive. Me, I’ve always been aggressive, have fast punches, been able to hit people very, very hard and stun people.
“I fight in 10 ounces now, but going down and fighting with four ounces hitting as hard as I hit, being as fast and explosive as I am, my boxing would do me great justice. The other stuff, I’ll continue to add to it and become this whole wrecking machine with it all together. I’m looking forward to all of it.”
Are you excited to see Claressa Shields make the transition into MMA?
This article first appeared on BJPENN.com on 1/3/2020.