Claressa Shields is a patient woman. At age 26, already one of the most accomplished female combat-sports athletes in history, she can afford to be.
Yet, she’s as ambitious, as driven, as she is patient.
Shields, a two-time Olympic boxing gold medalist and a professional world champion in that sport in three weight classes, is now pursuing a career in MMA. In that pursuit, the Flint, Michigan native trains in Albuquerque at Jackson-Wink.
Wednesday, Shields (1-0) is scheduled for her second MMA fight against Mexico’s Abigail Montes (2-0) on a Professional Fighters League card in Hollywood, Florida.
Monday, during a news conference conducted on Zoom, Shields was asked if — given her status in combat sports — she felt slighted to be fighting Montes, 21 and a relative unknown.
Shields pointed out that Montes has one more MMA victory than she does.”Me and Abby are evenly matched, if you ask me,” she said. “And probably she’s supposed to be looked at as better than me, because she has better kickboxing.
“… One of the main reasons why I signed with the PFL is being able to fight against girls who are on my level and not having to jump to fight the champions right away, because I still have a lot of learning to do.”
In terms of the need for patience, Shields’ MMA debut in June on a PFL card against Brittney Elkin (3-6 at the time) was exhibit A. Her inexperience laid bare, Shields spent most of the first two rounds on her back.
But in the third, after fending off another takedown attempt, she stunned Elkin with punches and won by TKO (ground-and-pound).
Shields believes she’s a much better MMA fighter now than she was in June.
“I’ve been learning on the job, and I’ve been just getting better and better,” she said. “… I’m being taught arm bars and stuff, and I’m being taught how to get out of them. They’re showing me rear naked chokes, and I’m doing really good in wrestling and getting in great positions.
“That’s stuff that used to confuse me. Now I actually feel good doing them, and that’s just giving me more confidence for the future.”
Montes, for her part, expects to face a better Shields than Elkin did in June. Still, she said on Monday, the “mixed” in mixed martial arts can’t be mastered in the short amount of time Shields has been training for the sport.
“It’s complicated,” the Guadalajara fighter said of the transition Shields is making. “It’s very complicated. … You can’t improve on everything that’s so complicated in five or six months.”
Shields has the benefit of training with two accomplished boxers-turned-MMA fighters in Jackson-Wink’s Holly Holm (14-5) and Arlene Blencowe (14-8), and under the watchful eye of renowned coaches Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn.
But Montes concedes nothing. She trained for this fight with highly respected coach Antonio McKee at Team Bodyshop in Lakewood, California, and has sparred with Cristiane “Cyborg’ Justino, a former UFC and current Bellator champion who holds a victory over Holm.
Working with the heavy-handed and big-bodied Cyborg, Montes said, was optimal preparation for Wednesday’s fight, to be contested at the lightweight limit of 155 pounds.
“To train with someone at that level makes me feel more secure,” she said.
Unlike Holm, a boxing world champion who left the ring before winning a UFC title in MMA, Shields seeks to hold titles in both sports simultaneously. She’s scheduled to defend her world middleweight boxing title on Dec. 11 against Slovenia’s Ema Kozin (21-0-1, 11 knockouts) in Birmingham, England. Again, though, there’s no rush.
“I would love to be a PFL champ and a boxing champ at the same time in the year 2023 or 2024, whenever,” she said. “… It’s very important, because I wouldn’t be doing both (otherwise).”
ELSEWHERE: Albuquerque MMA bantamweight John Dodson’s long-awaited, long-delayed return to competition ended in defeat on Saturday.
Dodson (21-13) lost by unanimous decision to Cody Gibson (18-7) on an XMMA card in Miami.
Dodson, who twice fought for the UFC flyweight title, hadn’t been in the cage since August 2020. After being released by the UFC, he was to have fought Gibson in July but withdrew after sustaining minor injuries in a car crash.