Claressa Shields has made it a habit of doing the undoable. The two-time Olympic gold medalist and three-division world champion has seldom been the underdog in her boxing matches, but she has repeatedly left her skeptics in stunned silence with the feats she achieves.
“I’m a person who does the impossible,” Shields told Just Women’s Sports. “Like when I won the Olympics twice for America, I was the only American to ever do so, back-to-back. They said it was impossible. I did it.
“They said it wasn’t possible for anybody to become a three-division world champ faster than [Vasiliy] Lomachenko. He did it in 11 fights, I did in 10. Boom.”
“Being a woman in boxing, we’re not treated good,” she added. “Also being a Black woman: how they stereotype us and how they portray us from the beginning makes it hard for us to be successful in our fields, and I’m one of the best woman fighters ever.”
Shields’ appetite for seemingly insurmountable challenges not only helped her conquer the boxing world, but drove her to seek out new tests in an entirely new sport: mixed martial arts.
The pugilist put pen to paper with the Professional Fighters League (PFL) late last year and made a successful MMA debut with the promotion in June, rallying to defeat the amply more experienced Brittney Elkin.
“They said no boxer could transition into MMA and win against a person who’s good at BJJ [Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu] or good on the ground,” Shields said proudly, looking back on her debut. “I did it again: third-round TKO over Brittney Elkin.”
Shields’ next MMA bout is Wednesday. She’ll look to make it 2-0 against Mexico’s Abigail Montes at an October 27 PFL event in Fort Lauderdale, which will also feature a whopping six world title fights.
Shields knows she has a dangerous opponent on her hands but is confident her diligent training will serve her well.
“I think it’s a good matchup,” she said. “She’s mostly a striker with punches and kicks. From the fights that I’ve seen, she likes to be the bully. She likes to push forward and push girls back and beat the girls up. I’m excited for her to try that against me, because I don’t let nobody bully me in a fight.
“We’ve listened to her interviews and she said she’s basically going to out-strike me,” Shields added, oozing confidence. “I can’t wait to see that happen.”
If Shields defeats Montes on October 27, it will set her up for more tough challenges in the PFL cage. If her success continues thereafter, she may ultimately earn a shot at the promotion’s lightweight title, currently the property of two-time Olympic judoka and unbeaten mixed martial artist Kayla Harrison. If Shields wins that title, she’ll be able to call herself a two-sport champion, and one of the greatest fighters in the history of combat sports, period.
As ever, her mission looks almost impossible from the outset, but she believes it can be accomplished.
“I feel like becoming the PFL lightweight champion is very, very possible,” she said. “I know there’s some girls standing in my way right now, the main one being Kayla Harrison. She’s like the top tier [in MMA]. I’m very respectful of her and her skillset, and of her being the champion, and how hard she works. That’s why I’m working very, very hard to be on that level, so when the time comes for me and her to fight, or for me and any of the other top-ranked girls to fight, it’ll be a very, very competitive fight and it’ll be worth the fans’ money.
“It’s not impossible, and that makes me very happy,” she added. “I’m just enjoying the process.”
Amazingly, two-sport glory isn’t where Shields’ ambition ends. She also has eyes on other industries, with big plans percolating behind the scenes.
“I still got a lot of work to do,” she said. “I’ve got a lot of dreams to accomplish that people don’t know about. I got stuff I want to do in music, stuff I want to do in modeling and movies.”
Shields’ ambition knows no bounds, but many of her goals seem to hinge on the outcome of her upcoming matchup with Montes. She isn’t big on specific, pre-fight predictions, but it’s fair to say she doesn’t see her habit of conquering massive challenges faltering now.
“I’m not even going to put that kind of pressure on myself, to say third-round, second-round, first-round knockout,” she said. “I just know that I’ve trained harder for this fight than I did for my last fight. I’ve changed a lot of things up. I feel a lot healthier, a lot better, a lot more focused, and I have a lot more support this camp than I did last camp. I feel good.
“I’ve come a long way and I can’t wait to display that.”
Tune in: Watch PFL 2021 on ESPN2 October 27th at 4:30pm ET. Learn more about the event and additional ways to watch here.