World Champion Boxer Claressa Shields Calls Out Sexism in Boxing and Moves to MMA

At 25 years of age, Claressa Shields has already established her status as one of the greatest female boxers of all time. Now the fighting phenom is making the jump from boxing into the world of MMA, where she believes she can create her own destiny with the Professional Fighters’ League.

Claressa Shields is one of those athletes whose myriad of accomplishments at such a young age really make you question whether you have made the best use of your time so far on this planet.

Despite being aged only 25, her achievements in boxing make her a true great of the sport, irrespective of gender. In an amateur career which saw her suffer only one defeat in 78 fights, Shields became the first American boxer to win two consecutive Olympic gold medals. Since the advent of her professional career following victory at the 2016 games, Shields has become a three-weight world champion, and is one of only eight boxers in history, female or male, to hold the world title of all four sanctioning bodies simultaneously.  

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That’s an undeniably stellar resume, but Shields has no intentions of resting on her laurels to await her hall of fame induction. Last week, Shields announced that she had signed a deal with mixed martial arts promotion, the Professional Fighters’ League (PFL), officially confirming that she plans to compete in MMA as early as next year. In a recent interview with ESPN, Shields opened up about her experiences of sexism in boxing and the lack of opportunities to make money, or garner recognition commensurate with that of her male counterparts. Shields explained that MMA organisations are willing to provide equal opportunities for women to headline events, and make the money they deserve:

“I feel like I’ve had fights in boxing that have captured the sports world, just women’s boxing isn’t treated equally… In every MMA league, they have women fighters main event. The PFL gives women a chance to fight for a million dollars just like they give men a chance to fight for a million dollars. In boxing, there aren’t those kind of opportunities for women.” 

Money is not the only motivating factor behind her move though. Shields went on to say that MMA represents a considerable personal challenge, declaring that she intends to train as hard as possible and work with high-level coaches and training partners to ensure that she is equally successful in the cage as well as the ring. Less than a week after announcing her entry into the sport of MMA, Shields travelled to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to train at the world-famous JacksonWink MMA academy, alongside Jon ‘Bones’ Jones, one of the best to ever do it.

In 2019, Shields piqued the interest of the MMA community when she speculated on a potential future fight with current UFC champion Amanda Nunes, who is widely regarded to be the greatest female MMA fighter in history. At the time, few believed that she would walk away from her position at the pinnacle of boxing to risk the dangers of a mixed martial arts contest. Due to the sheer variety of techniques and skills that MMA fighters must cultivate to compete at the highest levels of the sport, very few world-class boxers have successfully crossed over to MMA. Even former UFC bantamweight champion and world champion boxer Holly Holm; who has already met with Shields to pass on her knowledge; developed an extensive kickboxing career and trained for several years to acquire a range of skills before beginning her journey in MMA.

What’s more, Shields will certainly face stiff competition in the PFL. Believe it or not, she is not the only two-time Olympic gold medallist on the PFL’s roster – compatriot Kayla Harrison also took gold at the 2012 and 2016 games in Judo, and has already amassed an impressive professional MMA record of 8-0.

Shields certainly has a mountain to climb, and it remains to be seen whether she can achieve a similar level of domination in MMA to that of her boxing career. But if her fierce work ethic, exceptional fighting talent and willingness to learn are anything to go by, we may very well see Claressa Shields reign supreme at the pinnacle of women’s combat sports for many years to come.