LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 19:   (L-R) Claressa Shields lands a left to the head of Franchon Crews during their super middleweight bout at T-Mobile Arena on November 19, 2016 in New York City.  Shields defeated Crews by unanimous decision.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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Claressa Shields not at her best, still wins professional boxing debut

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Claressa Shields didn’t feel at her best, but her pro debut was a winning one anyway.

The two-time Olympic gold medalist won a decision Saturday over Franchon Crews in a four-round super middleweight fight, making the transition to the pros after the most successful amateur career for an American woman.

Shields came back from a slow first round to land the bigger punches in an entertaining fight on the undercard of the Sergey KovalevAndre Ward light heavyweight title fight on the Las Vegas Strip.

“It’s not what I wanted but to be called on, last minute, for a fight of this magnitude,” Shields said. “I am proud of myself. We will fight again in the future.”

Both women were fighting without headgear for the first time, but it didn’t seem to be a factor as they traded punches freely before a sparse but appreciative crowd. Shields won all four rounds on the scorecards of the three ringside judges.

Shields, who became the first American woman to win a gold medal in the 2012 Olympics and added another in Rio in August, had vowed to be impressive in her first pro fight. And she wasn’t shy about trading punches with Franchon, a Baltimore fighter who lost to her during the Olympic trials in 2012.

Shields was pushed to the canvas twice by Crews, who started strong but seemed to tire quickly.

“It feels so good to have just made my pro debut,” she said. “This is what I’ve been training for. I’m faster and I hit harder.”

Shields, from Flint, Michigan, weighed 167 pounds to 168 for Crews.

The 21-year-old Shields said she plans to fight up to 10 times in her first year as a pro. Her goal is to one day headline a pay-per-view card of her own.

“I believe 150 percent in my boxing ability,” she said before the fight. “I know I’m a great fighter. I fight better than 90 percent of the men who box now. I just know that, and I’m not at my best yet.”

Women’s boxing has largely been a fringe sport in recent years, and women have rarely appeared on televised cards. While the fight was on the undercard of Kovalev-Ward, it wasn’t a part of the pay-per-view telecast.

Claressa Shields set for first professional fight Saturday

FILE - In this Aug. 21, 2016, file photo, Claressa Shields, of the United States, displays her gold medals from London and Rio at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 21, 2016.  She became the first American woman boxer to win a gold medal in the London Olympics, then did it again a few months ago in Rio. Nice trinkets, but Claressa Shields has bigger things in mind as she makes her pro debut Saturday.(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)
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(AP) — She became the first American woman boxer to win a gold medal in the London Olympics, then did it again a few months ago in Rio.

Nice trinkets, but Claressa Shields has bigger things in mind. Way bigger.

“A one-in-a-century fighter,” Shields said.

The brash middleweight from Flint, Michigan, makes her pro debut Saturday night on the undercard of the Andre WardSergey Kovalev light heavyweight title clash. She’ll do it without headgear but with the same two-minute rounds as in the amateurs.

And she will do it against a familiar opponent in Baltimore boxer Franchon Crews, a top amateur she beat on her way to earning a spot on the 2012 Olympic team.

“Very seldom do you see someone making their pro debut with this level of fight,” said Mark Taffet, who is Shields’ co-manager. “The idea is to use the first year and make it impactful in a way that hasn’t been done for a female fighter.”

There’s no shortage of big plans for Shields, and seemingly no lack of confidence that the 21-year-old can succeed where other women boxers haven’t. But there’s also no guarantee Shields can be a breakout fighter who can bring the kind of interest to the fractured world of women’s boxing that Ronda Rousey has to the UFC.

It may be a longshot, but that’s not stopping Shields from envisioning women’s boxing having a different future. She believes she can someday headline pay-per-view cards of her own like Ward-Kovalev at the glittering new T-Mobile Arena on the Las Vegas Strip.

“I consider myself a pay-per-view attraction now,” Shields said. “The more you see me box, the more you’ll like me. I want to fight 12 rounds. If a girl could withstand me for 12 rounds, that would be a good fight.”

Shields will make her debut in a four-rounder that won’t be on the pay-per-view portion of the card. Taffet said her bout, expected to take place with few people in the arena, will be streamed online and put on specialty channels in an effort to get people to buy the Kovalev-Ward card.

Crews also will make her pro debut in the fight. She is an eight-time USA Boxing national champion and a silver medalist at the 2012 world championships.

Shields, whose story of rising out of poverty with her fists was the subject of a documentary film after her first gold medal win, said she wants to fight 10 times in the next year to build her resume and get more people interested in her.

“I believe 150 percent in my boxing ability,” she said. “I know I’m a great fighter. I fight better than 90 percent of the men who box now. I just know that, and I’m not at my best yet.”

Shields was miffed after winning her gold medal in London that she didn’t receive the kind of endorsements and attention given gymnast Gabby Douglas. Things were a bit better in Rio, where she became the first American boxer to defend an Olympic title and won the Val Barker Trophy as the tournament’s top overall fighter.

Instead of continuing to draw a $5,000 monthly stipend from USA Boxing to go for a third gold in Tokyo four years from now, though, she decided to turn pro. Despite women’s boxing receiving little attention in recent years and her bout not on pay-per-view, Shields isn’t deterred.

Taffet, who used to be head of pay-per-view for HBO, said he signed on to help manage her because he is a big believer.

“She’s going to make her mark not just on women’s boxing, but all of boxing like the way we’ve seen recently in MMA,” he said. “It’s a new world, and there’s a new sheriff in town.”

MORE: Laila Ali on Shields turning pro

Claressa Shields faces familiar opponent in pro boxing debut

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Claressa Maria Shields of the United States looks on during the Women's Middle (69-75kg) Final Bout on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Riocentro - Pavilion 6 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Two-time Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields will fight countrywoman Franchon Crews in her first professional bout on Nov. 19 in Las Vegas.

Shields (77-1 and undefeated for more than four years) announced last week that she was turning pro, potentially giving up the opportunity to go for a third Olympic title in 2020.

Shields discussed conversations with boxing’s international federation about making her eligible for the Tokyo Games.

Shields was 16 years old and unaccomplished in February 2012 when she upset top-ranked Crews at the first U.S. Olympic women’s boxing trials.

Crews had started boxing in 2003 to lose weight for her singing career and once tried out for “American Idol.”

Crews moved up one weight class, where she won world championships medals in 2012 (silver) and 2016 (bronze). She reverted to middleweight for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials and was eliminated before a potential rematch with Shields in the finals.

VIDEO: Shields congratulated by famous boxing actor