Rick Wright: Shields wants it all, has the credentials

Claressa Shields lands a left hook during her decisive victory over Marie Eve Dicaire in March. Shields, a highly decorated boxer, is entering the MMA ranks. (Carlos Osorio/AP File)

Claressa Shields is as ambitious as she is talented, but her ambitions are not merely for herself.

She fights for equality in opportunity and compensation. She fights for the disrespected and under-appreciated. She fights for her beloved hometown of Flint, Michigan.

Shields, an Olympic and professional boxing champion, is scheduled to make her mixed martial arts debut on Thursday – putting on display the skills she’s acquired and the strategy she’s learned while training in Albuquerque at Jackson-Wink MMA.

A week before the fight, the first installment of a four-part Shields documentary appeared on espn+. During those 24 minutes, she explains why she’s pursuing a unique goal: to become a boxing and an MMA world champion at the same time, something no other fighter – man or woman – has done.

“There’s no other boxer that’s accomplished more than me,” she says at the documentary’s outset, “But I just want so much more for myself and my career. I have a great opportunity right now, and I’m gonna use my youth (she’s 26) to the best of my ability to be great at MMA, be great at boxing. I can do both.”

In the documentary, there’s considerable footage of Shields training at Jackson-Wink with coaches Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn and with fellow boxer-turned-MMA fighter Holly Holm – who has held titles in both sports but not at the same time.

The ESPN piece follows Shields from Albuquerque to Hollywood, Florida, where she worked with veteran trainer John David Jackson for her March 5 super welterweight boxing title-unification fight in Flint against Canada’s Marie Eve Dicaire.

It deals at some length with Flint, a city whose already-depressed economy took a tragic hit when its water supply turned toxic in 2014.

“I still wear my hair blue for the fights,” Shields says, “and that’s to bring awareness to the Flint water crisis. I told my city that I would wear my hair blue until the water was clean.”

Then, after her lopsided victory over Dicaire in Flint, it’s back to Albuquerque to prepare for her MMA debut on a Professional Fighters League card against Brittney Elkin, a Wyoming native with a 3-6 record.

Shields makes it clear in the ESPN piece that she believes she can accomplish anything she undertakes. But ESPN enlisted former UFC fighter and professional contrarian Chael Sonnen for the purpose of balance.

In training at Jackson-Wink, Sonnen – whose record includes a loss by first-round TKO to J-W star Jon Jones – acknowledges that Shields has come to the right place.

But, of her quest to hold boxing and MMA world titles simultaneously, Sonnen says flatly, “It’s not going to work.”

Why not? Well, there are indeed some obstacles.

Unlike Holm, who was a kick-boxer before she became a boxer, Shields came to MMA training armed only with her boxing skills – as impressive as they are. Says Sonnen: “The learning curve is very massive. As a whole, the tools of boxing are the single least effective in all of MMA.”

Shields’ boxing skills should be enough against Elkin, who in videos of her fights has shown great susceptibility to punches and little defense against them. Still, it could be interesting to see whether Elkin, a jiujitsu brown belt and an experienced grappler, can get inside Shields’ flashing fists and put Shields’ back to the cage or even take her to the ground.

I certainly wouldn’t bet against Shields, even in light of the handsome payday a wager on Elkin would produce, should she win as a 4½-to-1 underdog.

As for Shields’ long game, an MMA professional title, it appears she’d eventually have to deal with PFL champion and Olympic judo gold medalist Kayla Harrison, who’s 9-0 in the cage and defeated Elkin by first-round submission (arm bar) in 2018. The PFL essentially is Shields’ only avenue for now, since neither the UFC nor Bellator supports the 155-pound lightweight class in which she competes.

Shields, 75-1 as a boxer in the amateur and professional ranks, the only loss nine years in her rear-view mirror, harbors no doubt.

“The world is getting ready to see that Claressa Shields can do whatever she puts her mind to,” she says. “People say that boxers can’t come over to MMA and do well.

“They’re gonna learn their lesson.”

Share Your Story

Nativo Sponsored Content

Ad Tango

taboola desktop


Rick Wright: Storyteller sews together disparate threads of fighter's ...
Separately, independently, like two ink-stained ships ... Separately, independently, like two ink-stained ships in the night, Journal arts editor Adrian Gomez ...
Could Sanchez be part of state's bare knuckles fighting ...
New Mexico's first bare-knuckle fighting card ... New Mexico's first bare-knuckle fighting card has been scheduled for Dec. 4 at the Rio Rancho Event Center. Not coincidentally, Albuquerque MMA legend Diego ...
MMA: Clark, Edwards lose
Albuquerque-based MMA fighters Devin Clark and ... Albuquerque-based MMA fighters Devin Clark and Christian Edwards both lost their light heavyweight bouts Saturday on separate cards. On a Bellator card in San ...
MMA: J-W fighters ready
  Four fighters who train in ...   Four fighters who train in Albuquerque at Jackson-Wink MMA weighed in successfully on Friday for their fights on Saturday. On a UFC Fight ...
MMA: Condit, 'Natural Born Killer,' announces retirement
Albuquerque's Carlos Condit, among the most-watched ... Albuquerque's Carlos Condit, among the most-watched and most-admired fighters in the UFC ranks for m ...
20th century heavyweight: Ken Burns documentary looks into life ...
Ken Burns is one who stays ... Ken Burns is one who stays busy.During the pandemic, the acclaimed filmmaker was worki ...
Ex-champs Barrera, Ponce de Leon to honor Tapia with ...
Some 30 years ago, when Albuquerque ... Some 30 years ago, when Albuquerque boxing legend Johnny Tapia's pro career was just beginning, a we ...
Boxing: Sanchez loses, draws praise
Furthering the ring career of Xander ... Furthering the ring career of Xander Zayas wasn’t what Jose Luis Sanchez had in mind, but the Albuquerque boxer certainly accomplished that much. In ...
Albuquerque's Sanchez hopes to open eyes in Top Rank ...
On March 10, 2018, Puerto Rico ... On March 10, 2018, Puerto Rico native and Florida resident Xander Zayas won a 125-pound national amateur boxing title at the Albuquerque Convention Center. ...