Claressa Shields is sure she surprised plenty of people by returning to the cage for another mixed martial arts match February 24.
The three-division boxing champion always said she’d compete in MMA again after her three-round, split-decision defeat to unheralded Abigail Montes in October 2021. It took two-plus years, yet Shields is eager to demonstrate the improvements she made in a sport she took up late when she encounters Kelsey DeSantis as part of the “PFL Champions vs. Bellator Champions” pay-per-view event next month at Kingdom Arena in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Shields (1-1 in MMA), who will represent PFL, and DeSantis (1-2), a Bellator fighter, will meet in a three-round lightweight bout that will be televised by ESPNews and streamed by ESPN+ before the pay-per-view portion of PFL-Bellator show starts.
“I wanted to fight Amanda Nunes in a boxing match,” Shields stated during a press conference Wednesday in Hollywood, Florida. “And when they asked her if she would fight me she said, ‘Tell Claressa Shields to come to my world and I’ll choke the sh*t out of her.’ When I heard her say that it really lit a fire in me. You know what? None of these girls are going to come over from MMA and fight me because they know I’d win, hands down.
“But it would be a super challenge for me to go over to MMA, so I just wanted to challenge myself and show that I’m not just bad ass in boxing – I’m a bad ass fighter, period. So why not come over to MMA and just prove myself? So that’s why I’m here, even though a lot of people thought I would just run back to boxing. But hey, here I am. I’m just here to get better and I believe in a year or two I will be fighting for a world title.”
The 28-year-old Shields beat Brittney Elkin by third-round technical knockout to win her MMA debut in June 2021 at Ocean Resort Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Elkin entered her fight versus Shields with a 3-6 record, whereas Mexico’s Montes was 2-0 when she faced Shields at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida.
Montes’ victory marked Shields’ first loss in either sport since Savannah Marshall defeated her on points, 14-8, in an international amateur boxing tournament that took place in May 2012.
Shields, of Flint, Michigan, later avenged her amateur loss to Marshall by beating her rival by unanimous decision in their middleweight title fight in October 2022 at O2 Arena in London. The two-time Olympic gold medalist remains unbeaten as a professional boxer (14-0, 2 KOs), but Shields doesn’t have many appealing options in boxing other than a rematch against England’s Marshall (13-1, 10 KOs).
Shields still might return to boxing over the summer. Temporarily, though, she is fully focused on bouncing back from her MMA loss nearly 27 months ago.
“There’s a lot of great talent in the PFL,” Shields said. “I just want to do my due diligence and train and just win my fights and hopefully I’ll be as great as these guys up here and be able to fight for the PFL Championship and fight for the million dollars. Right now, it’s one fight at a time and I want to get back on a winning streak, as I lost my last fight by split decision.
“I just want to keep moving forward. Being able to be a woman and fighting in the first pro MMA bout in Saudi Arabia is a big deal for me and my career. I just want to come back and show that boxers can do MMA and that I have the potential to be a PFL world champion one day.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.