By: Hans Themistode
Boxing, at least to a certain extent, had become both too easy and not rewarding enough. So after dominating as an amateur and pro, Claressa Shields figured that she could do the same in an MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) octagon, she was right.
For months on end, Shields trained tirelessly for her MMA debut in the Professional Fighters League (PFL), an organization in which she signed a multi-fight contract to compete under. In her first official fight under mixed martial arts rules, Shields took home a third-round stoppage victory over Brittney Elkin.
Although on paper, Shields walked into their showdown as the favorite, Elkin’s experience was difficult to overcome.
Shields marched her way to the octagon in Atlantic City, New Jersey, kicked her shoes and stepped into the cage. Early on, she proved that her world-class striking ability could easily translate as she tagged her opponent on multiple occasions. But, as expected, Elkins managed to get their contest to the ground and that’s where things got complicated for Shields.
As the multiple division boxing champion had grown accustomed to trampling over the competition in the ring, she admits that she had to bite down on her mouth guard and dig deep against Elkin’s.
“Every time I sat down in the corner, I was like ‘Damn, I lost another round,’” said Shields after her victory. “I came out for the second round, lost the second round. Then came the third round, my coach said to not get taken down. She got me on the ground but she never hurt me. None of her punches hurt me. None of her armbars—nothing.
“I never doubted myself in a boxing match in my life. MMA is something like, it’s possible I can lose this first fight. I don’t want to lose but all I could do was just try not to lose. I just had a never quit attitude every round.”
Quitting has never been a part of Shields vocabulary but before tonight, losing rounds wasn’t either. After going 64-1 as an amateur with two Olympic Gold medals and 11-0 as a pro with world titles in three separate weight classes, including two undisputed title reigns, Shields rarely lost a round. Yet, as noted by Shields, her dominance in the ring didn’t exactly translate to the octagon.
Refusing to accept defeat, however, Shields got exactly what she was looking for in the final round. After Elkin’s failed to secure a takedown, Shields took full advantage, buzzing her opponent as she attempted to get the fight on the ground. With precious time ticking off the clock, Shields went for the stoppage. As the referee looked on, he attempted to give Elkin’s the benefit of the doubt. With that said, after Shields scored shot after unanswered shot, he was forced to call off their contest.
Although there was no title on the line, Shields celebrated as if she had just won one. Now, as Shields is officially a two-sport athlete, she replayed the final moments in the octagon that allowed her to pick up her first MMA win.
“I just seen that she didn’t like getting hit. She was exposed. Coach kept saying, ‘Let her out.’ I was like, ‘I’m not letting her up.’ She turned toward me. I pushed myself toward her again, and it was over.”