Claressa Shields’ takeaway from first 3 MMA fights: ‘I have potential to be an MMA champion’

Claressa Shields knows she’ll always have detractors being in the combat sports public eye, but she’s learned the fan bases are much different between boxing and MMA.

Shields, the undisputed light middleweight boxing champion, recently improved her pro MMA record to 2-1 with a hard-fought split decision win over Kelsey DeSantis at PFL vs. Bellator in Saudi Arabia. “T-Rex” has seen how the MMA community has cast some doubt on her future in the sport, so picking up the win on a big stage was satisfying — mostly because of her doubters.

“If I was just a regular old Joe and not athletic, and not really a true fighter and a true combat fighter, then MMA wouldn’t even exist for me,” Shields said on The MMA Hour. “But it’s the fact that I am just really a dog and I love fighting. I love the art of war and I’m willing to put in a hard work. That’s how I won the fight. I put in so much hard work for this girl. She’s a purple belt in jiu-jitsu.

“It’s just like, for her to be a purple belt and me be a white belt, and then she’s also more experienced in MMA, she had three fights compared to my two and I’m 1-1, but she also had Muai Thai fights and have Brazilian jiu-jitsu [matches] and I don’t have those things — so I knew that going in there with her was a risk, but we worked on my weaknesses.

“But winning in MMA, it’s fulfilling, and then it’s funny to me because I feel like in MMA, I have more doubters than I have in boxing. Nobody in boxing doubts me. It’s a couple of haters here and there, but [are] you seriously going to tell me that there’s a girl right now in boxing that can beat me? Nobody can stand on that. But when you say [there are] girls in MMA who, even on a lower level, can beat me, people get all excited, like, ‘Yeah, somebody can finally beat her.’ And then when I win, it just makes all of them mad. So it’s very satisfying to me when they’re punching the air and pulling their hair when I win, because it’s just like, yes, I worked hard, I won.

“You doubted me, you’re mad, you suck.”

Shields was victorious in her MMA debut when she stopped Brittney Elkin via third-round TKO at PFL 4 in June 2021, before dropping a split decision to Abby Montes four months later at PFL 10.

Getting her first MMA victory was admittedly satisfying, but now that she’s been in the cage three times and has yet to get blown out, she knows there is indeed a future for her in MMA, and it could lead to some extra hardware getting wrapped around her waist down the line.

“MMA is just different, but in a weird crazy way, I actually find some kind of comfort in a whole not being the greatest thing in MMA — knowing that when I win, it’s always going to be a surprise to people,” Shields explained. “It’s always going to be something in a fight where it’s like, ‘Oh, this is MMA, this is what she’s not good at,’ and I just feel like, at first, I was doing MMA to prove to people like, ‘Hey, boxers can do MMA.’

“I wanted to win a fight, and then I won that fight by a third-round knockout with Brittney Elkin. And then I fought against Abby and I lost a split decision, but in my mind, at first, I was like, ‘If these girls got way more ground game than me, way more experience, way more just everything that I have in MMA compared to them except my boxing, why aren’t these girls submitting me? Why aren’t they knocking me out, why aren’t they choking me out?’ The answer I got was because I have potential to be an MMA champion.”

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