When WBO Super Welterweight Champion and Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields (11-0) makes her MMA debut tonight in PFL, there will be a lot of eyes on her.
She isn’t necessarily making history, as there are plenty of former Olympians and even gold medalists that have made the move to MMA, including Henry Cejudo and Kayla Harrison.
Going from boxing and kickboxing to MMA isn’t all that rare either. You have the likes of Heather Hardy, Gohkan Saki and Alister Overeem that have done that.
Shields is in the prime of her career and entering an entirely different sport. While she enters with more-than strong base in striking, her skills in other departments is unknown.
What I’m most looking forward to is the first time she finds herself on the ground. Things could get ugly: I think of the likes of Heather Hardy on her back getting teed off on and bloodied in her last fight. Another crossover star in pro bowler Greg Hardy laying helplessly as Marcin Tybura hit him with uncontested strike after strike.
Even the likes of champions and elite strikers Francis N’Gannou and Israel Adesanya spent large chunks of title fights on their backs.
We’ll know how much time Shields and her team have spent in the training room and on the mats the first time she finds herself in a precarious position.
I want to see what she does first. Does she immediately start to move her hips and begin the process of getting up or does she accept the position, or give up her back.
Shields is training at Jackson Wink, so I would expect them to take all the necessary steps to make sure she is prepared. She is 11-0 as a boxer with a pair of knockouts, so I expect her striking to be fine.
They have had the time since she announced her transition to MMA to work on solely her ground game and getting that at least passable for her first few fights. Her signing to PFL was first announced in late 2020, with rumors of her transitioning to the sport swirling around before then as well.
I would have loved to see her do what former three-time All-American wrestler Bo Nickal did and take a grappling match to get some experience on the mat.
One asset that I would imagine would help Shields is one of her teammates and someone who was in her shoes over a decade ago in Holly Holm. Holm was also a prolific boxer (33-2-3) in the ring before turning her attention to MMA. Holm piled up wins early by just using her boxing and kickboxing and knocked out her first five opponents.
Shields gets what figures to be a soft landing in her debut against a fighter named Brittney Elkin (3-6). While she doesn’t train at a huge gym like Jackson Wink, Elkin does have seven grappling bouts and a first round loss to 2019 PFL champ Kayla Harrison via armbar.
If the line (Shields -350) or record is any indication, Elkin doesn’t appear to be all that much of a threat.
Hopefully Elkin can do enough to put Shields in the positions that we can see what she has been working on to become a mixed martial artist, not just ‘Boxer Claressa Shields’.