ATLANTIC CITY, NJ Claressa Shields found herself pinned on her back, pinned to a cage and absorbing so many blows to the head that the undefeated fighter was on the verge of being defeated in MMA.
I could have gone home with an L like that, Shields said.
So she dug deep into her debut for the fortitude that took her twice from Flint, Michigan, to Olympic gold and then a professional career that made her the most decorated fighter of her time.
I got myself going with those big right hands, she said. My right hand has never let me down.
From the square circle to the cage, Shields let her mighty hand take over and lift it in victory.
Shields made short work of Brittney Elkin and the mixed martial arts novice proved she could have a future in the sport with a Thursday night TKO win in the main event of a Professional Fighters League card.
I’m not losing this fight, said the undefeated boxer.
Shields proved in her lightweight 155lb fight that she is just as adept at unleashing a beating in mixed martial arts. She shook off a slow first two laps before getting Elkin to the ground and needed some heavy shots to do the decisive damage. She earned the win with a right hand from the top at 1:44 of the third round.
I feel like I’m dreaming. This is crazy, she said.
Shields has ditched some of the flamboyant suits she wore in boxing (where she’s 11-0) for straight red knickers and top. She still wore her hair in a blue ponytail to draw attention to the fight for clean water that has been going on for years in her hometown of Michigan.
She has won all light middleweight, middleweight and super middleweight crowns in her boxing career and was the fastest fighter in history, both male and female, to become world champion in three divisions. Shields didn’t begin her MMA training until December at the Jackson Wink MMA Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Shields calls herself the GWOAT yes, the greatest woman of all time,
At least in boxing.
In MMA, her inexperience showed early on. Elkin defeated Shields early in the first round and mounted her while punching the rookie in the face. Shields endured more in one round than in most of her professional boxing career.
Elkin landed a wide right early in the second that did little to rattle Shields. Elkin went back to the mountain, holding the career boxer on her back. Shields escaped late in the second and swung and missed on a wild just before getting more headshots setting the stage for the third round.
I kept hitting her, kept hitting her, Shields said. I said to myself, keep hitting her until she stops.
Shields won Olympic gold in London in 2012 and repeated it four years later in Rio de Janiero.
Shields ensured a wide fan base: 76ers center Dwight Howard wrote Lets go champ on Instagram and actress Rosie Perez tweeted Good luck tonight. Ray Lewis, who has an equity stake in PFL and serves on its advisory board, looked at the cage and admired Shields’ decision to switch to MMA while she was still in the prime of her boxing career.
The genius of champions making transitions is that they start from scratch and don’t care, said Lewis, the Hall of Fame linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens. Many people are afraid to start over. They end their career, I’m stuck, I’m good. But when you make that transition, you’re chasing something else. I think she’s looking for something different and that’s just good to see. I just love that she adapts to it.
CEO Peter Murray said Shields would fight one more time for PFL this year before a decision was made for 2022.
This is just her first step to proving to herself that she really has what it takes to make it through Season 22, Murray said.
A potential dream match for 2022 in the PFL would be for Shields to fight Kayla Harrison. Harrison, a two-time Olympic gold judo medalist, has emerged as the face of PFL. Harrison (9-0) will fight again on June 25.
We think that’s a pay-per-view fight, Murray said. That starts tonight.
Unlike other MMA organizations, the PFL uses a season format, with playoffs and a championship fight night that awards a $1 million prize to each of the six champions in the weight class. Four fighters each in PFL’s featherweight and men’s lightweight division advanced on Thursday.
Shields was announced as fighting in PFL’s first showcase fight.
Murray said PPV is on the horizon for PFL. Thursday’s card aired on ESPN2, and the league has yet to decide when or where it will hold its championship fight. The PFL held its two previous finals on December 31 in New York. Murray said the battle card could come before December.
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