Claressa Shields doesn’t regret taking a chance.
A two-time Olympic gold medalist and three-division champion boxer, Shields is widely considered to be the No. 1 pound-for-pound female pugilist in the world today, as well as one of the greatest female boxers of all time. She’s also the only boxer in history, regardless of gender, to simultaneously capture boxing’s four major titles in two different divisions.
Yet she has another distinction as well. Shields is perhaps the most decorated boxer ever to take a detour into MMA while still at the peak of her powers. Shields made her much-anticipated MMA debut in 2021 between defenses of her boxing titles, scoring a come-from-behind knockout over Brittney Elkin in her debut, then losing a competitive split decision to Abigail Montes, both of which were held under the PFL umbrella.
Despite those mixed results, however, Shields remains content with her decision.
“I don’t regret doing MMA,” Shields said Wednesday on The MMA Hour. “I’m 1-1, I lost a fight — a split decision that could have went either way against an opponent who’d been doing MMA her whole life. So the fact that I was doing MMA only a year, trying to learn the ground game and trying to learn some wrestling and add it to my boxing, and then to lose a split — like, I didn’t get knocked out, I didn’t get armbarred, I didn’t get submitted.
“I just lost a split decision. I don’t regret it at all. It actually made me a better fighter. It showed me what I already knew — I can do whatever I put my mind to. I beat a girl who was a brown belt and had been doing MMA for 13 years. I went in there and I was able to beat her, so I just know that I’m dangerous whether it’s in a boxing ring or it’s in a cage.”
Shields, 28, has been busy in boxing since her dalliance in MMA. She won back-to-back decisions over Ema Kozin and Savannah Marshall in 2022 to continue her undisputed middleweight reign. Now the Michigan native is scheduled to defend her belts against Maricela Cornejo on Saturday in a homecoming at Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena after original opponent Hanna Gabriels was replaced due to a failed VADA drug test.
But the PFL has also made big moves since Shields’ last MMA fight, most recently with its signing of the No. 1 heavyweight in the world Francis Ngannou to a landmark deal that will see the former UFC champion debut with the organization sometime in 2024.
Shields said Wednesday that her focus remains on boxing for the immediate future, however she’s keeping the door open for an eventual return to the PFL SmartCage.
“I would like to do MMA again,” Shields said. “We are in talks with PFL now to try to see what the plan is, but I would like to be given the right amount of time to train and to learn the craft of MMA, to have me a solid team behind me, because I’ve just been winging it. I went to JacksonWink and I trained with them, and they were a great team. I did a lot of jiu-jitsu training, a lot of wrestling. But it just was like, you get a 30-minute session, a 45-minute session — you don’t really get like the full [experience]. Like, I go to the gym and I don’t train less than three hours for boxing, and I’ve been doing boxing for 17 years.
“So I feel like in MMA, I want to have that same kind of routine in order for me to just learn those arts, because I’m far behind the other girls, but my boxing gives me a little lift. But if I can’t be on my feet, then we have to figure out something else,” Shields continued. “So I just want to learn those arts to where it can give me a better chance at winning. I’m not afraid to do MMA. I’ve already done it. I just want to — I like to win. I like to win fights.
“In MMA, I would like to be given a fair chance to actually have a good [knowledge base]. Know enough MMA, know enough wrestling, jiu-jitsu, kickboxing, to actually know those things, to where when I get into these fights and these girls take me down, it’s still a fight. So I want to do it again, I just have to get these ducks in a row and get stuff figured out.”