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Claressa Shields continues lifting women's boxing as she trains for MMA debut

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·4 min read
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Claressa Shields stands on the verge of making history, again, as on March 5 she will attempt to become the first boxer, male or female, to hold undisputed championships in two weight classes in the four-belt era.

Shields is already the undisputed middleweight champion and will face Marie-Eve Dicaire in a super welterweight unification bout. Four men and three women, including Shields, have been undisputed during the four-belt era.

But what is making what Shields, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, is attempting to do even more remarkable is that she’s preparing a transition to mixed martial arts at the same time.

She spoke to Yahoo Sports by phone from Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she was in a break from MMA workouts at JacksonWink. She plans to make her MMA debut in June.

It’s an ambitious undertaking, but that’s what Shields has been about since the day she turned professional.

“I want all of these challenges,” she said.

She grew up in impoverished conditions in Flint, Michigan, a long shot to escape the cycle of poverty and violence that has engulfed so many in the city.

After two Olympic gold medals and world championships in three weight classes, Shields last year became the first person in her immediate family to be able to buy her own home.

Since then, the word on every big occasion has been the same in the family: Party at Claressa’s.

“Being able to buy my own house was moving and it made me very emotional,” she said. “I don’t think anyone in my family owned their own home. Maybe my grandma, maybe a few of my uncles, but in my immediate family, my siblings, even my mother wasn’t able to purchase her own house. Now I have a big house, a big three-bedroom, a full basement, three bathrooms, a living room. I didn’t have that growing up.

“Now, I can provide that for my family. All of the family get-togethers are at my house: Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s; everything is celebrated at my house. It just makes it feel so more family-oriented.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 07: Claressa Shields before the start of a press conference with Ivana Habazin at Hotel Plaza Athenee prior to their January 11th, 2020 WBO 154-pound title fight at the Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, NJ on January 07, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)
Claressa Shields (10-0, 2 KOs) announced her ring return is set for March 5 against Marie-Eve Dicaire (17-0, 0 KOs). (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)

Fights with Dicaire were postponed multiple times and Shields hasn’t competed since Jan. 10, 2020, when she decisioned Ivana Habazin in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

She was supposed to be the centerpiece of an all women’s boxing card that was to be streamed on UFC Fight Pass but that fell apart at the last moment.

While all that was going on, she turned to MMA and continued her boxing training. She’ll head to Florida next week to focus solely on the boxing match with Dicaire, but she’s been working on both sports for several months now.

“When I didn’t have a boxing match lined up, I’ve been splitting it up,” she said. “So on a Monday, I’d do all boxing, all boxing workouts, cardio. The next day, I’d do all MMA: Kicks, knees, fighting from the back, Superman punches, core exercises and then I’d have strength and conditioning. The next day, boxing again and the day after, MMA.

“I keep going back and forth. I’ve been here in Albuquerque for the last two weeks doing nothing but MMA. I just got done doing kickboxing sparring. But I’ll put that on hold at the end of the week to fly to Florida and start my full boxing camp.”

It’s remarkable what she has already accomplished and what she’s trying to do.

Women’s boxing lags way behind women’s MMA in popularity. Even before UFC president Dana White was convinced to allow women in the UFC, women’s MMA was more popular than women’s boxing.

Why that is is open for debate, but there is no debate about this: Claressa Shields is doing everything possible to grab her sport by the neck and push it into the mainstream.

If it doesn’t get there, it won’t be because of her. And it won’t demean her many accomplishments.

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