Claressa Shields begins MMA career: ‘I’ve never kicked anybody in my life’

Claressa Shields
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Claressa Shields already reigns over boxing with two Olympic gold medals and professional titles in three weight classes.

Her next world to conquer is mixed martial arts.

Shields has signed with the Professional Fighters League in a quest to become the first woman to hold simultaneous titles in both MMA and boxing, she told The Associated Press on Monday. She will make her debut next year, and she hopes to have two or three MMA fights along with two boxing matches during 2021 before she attempts to win the PFL title in 2022.

“I’m not trying to do this for show,” Shields told the AP. “I’m really taking this seriously. I’m not thinking that just because my hands are better than everybody else that I’ll win. I’m really going to strengthen the things that I’m weak at.”

Shields realizes she faces a steep learning curve as she prepares to fight as a 155-pound lightweight in the PFL. She is still relatively new to jiu-jitsu, wrestling and kickboxing: “I’ve never kicked anybody in my life, not even in a street fight!” she said.

But Shields is a singular athlete with a work ethic to match, and she is confident in her ability to master other forms of hand-to-hand combat with the proper training.

”I’m not going in here knowing I’m going to beat these girls just because I can outbox them,” Shields said. “I’m going to have to get away from takedowns. Take some kicks. Make some kicks. Take some knees. I have to get used to getting grabbed, because in boxing, when a girl grabs me, I dang near want to slam her.

“I really feel that me against any other woman, no matter what it is, she’s not going to be able to beat me.”

Many fighters have tried the move Shields is making in both directions. Champion boxer Holly Holm famously changed sports and knocked out Olympic judo bronze medalist Ronda Rousey to win a UFC belt, while Conor McGregor parlayed his UFC success into one wildly lucrative boxing match with Floyd Mayweather.

Olympic champions in judo (Kayla Harrison) and wrestling (Henry Cejudo) authored successful MMA transitions.

Shields’ interest in trying MMA has been rumored for years, and she also expressed interest in taking on UFC champions Amanda Nunes and Cris “Cyborg” Justino in a boxing ring. Now that the talk is real, Shields is eager to do the work necessary to make her bold dreams into reality.

“I just want to be great at everything,” she said. “I hate losing. I haven’t lost a fight since I was 17 years old. I’m not here for a good time. I’m here to make my presence known to everybody I get in the cage with. You’re not getting in there and just fighting against a boxer. You’re getting in there against one of the greatest women’s combat sports athletes to ever live.”

Shields’ family reacted with varying degrees of disbelief when she told them about her decision over Thanksgiving. Her mother didn’t believe it, and her sister angrily warned Shields against trying to fight men (that’s not happening) — but her father and boyfriend both were excited for her.

Shields, from Flint, Michigan, hasn’t settled on a training regimen or a home MMA gym, but she wants “to train with some of the best MMA fighters and coaches (to) speed up my process,” she said.

She has spoken to former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones about training with him in Albuquerque, and she will talk to other MMA stars about training dates. Shields said she will rely on her trainers to tell her when she’s ready to step into a cage.

Shields intends to work her way up in competition level in 2021 with a series of one-off PFL fights. The promotion normally conducts a yearly tournament with a $1 million grand prize, and Shields hopes to be in the 2022 field.

Shields’ last boxing match was in January, but she isn’t quitting that sport: She plans to announce a new date soon for her postponed junior middleweight world title fight with Marie-Eve Dicaire in which she will attempt to unify four 154-pound championship belts.

Shields is already the undisputed middleweight champion, and she wants to become the first female boxer to hold that distinction in two weight classes. Shields is 10-0 as a pro boxer, and she isn’t worried about the time she’ll spend on MMA interfering with her boxing career.

“I can box in my sleep,” she said with a laugh. “That’s what I was born to do. Boxing is just in me. I’ll never forget how to box. Even when I’m 80 years old, a girl better not try me, because she’ll still be in for a whole heap of trouble. … When you get older, you learn how to train smarter, not harder. To train smart will be what I try to do throughout my whole MMA career.”

Shields insists her primary motivation is to win belts in both sports, but she has acknowledged frustration with the boxing industry’s inability to make her a star on the level of her male counterparts or MMA’s top female athletes.

“I’m not upset with boxing, but boxing has always been a sexist sport,” Shields said. “Until they start treating the women fairly, women’s boxing will never go to where we’re supposed to go. Even men’s boxing is at a standstill right now. That’s because they just won’t be fair, and the boxing gods see that.”

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Scotty James wins fifth X Games snowboard halfpipe title

Scotty James
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Scotty James doesn’t have Olympic gold, but he remains king of the X Games halfpipe.

James, the Australian snowboarder who took bronze and silver at the last two Olympics, earned his fifth Aspen gold, repeating as champ of the biggest annual contest under falling snow in the Colorado Rockies. Only the retired Shaun White has more X Games men’s snowboard halfpipe titles with eight.

Nobody on Friday night attempted a triple cork, which was first done in competition by Japan’s Ayumu Hirano last season en route to the Olympic title. Hirano placed sixth Friday.

“It was a tough night, pretty interesting conditions,” James said. “Had to adjust the game plan. The show goes on.”

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression over the course of a three-run jam session for the entire field rather than scoring individual runs.

Earlier, Olympic gold medalist Zoi Sadowski-Synnott of New Zealand repeated as women’s snowboard slopestyle champion, passing Olympic bronze medalist Tess Coady of Australia on the final run of the competition. Sadowski-Synnott, the only snowboarder or skier to win Olympic, world and X Games slopestyle titles, capped her finale with back-to-back 900s.

The competition lacked 2014 and 2018 Olympic champion Jamie Anderson, who announced her pregnancy last month.

Canada’s Megan Oldham landed the first triple cork in women’s ski big air competition history to beat Olympic silver medalist Tess Ledeux of France, according to commentators. Oldham, a 21-year-old ex-gymnast, was fourth at the Olympics.

Eileen Gu, the Olympic champion from China, did not compete but is entered in halfpipe and slopestyle later this weekend.

ON HER TURF: U.S. freeskier Maggie Voisin on grief, loss, finding motivation

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Isabeau Levito wins U.S. figure skating title at age 15, followed by comeback stories

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Isabeau Levito won her first U.S. figure skating title at age 15, cementing her status as the new leading American woman to open the new Olympic cycle.

Levito, the world junior champion, tallied 223.33 points between two strong programs in San Jose, California. She distanced two-time U.S. champion Bradie Tennell, who went 19 months between competitions due to foot and ankle injuries in 2021 and 2022 and scored 213.12.

Tennell was just two hundredths behind Levito after Thursday’s short but had multiple jumping errors in the free skate.

Levito followed her as last to go in the free and nailed the most pressure-packed performance of her young career, including the hardest jump combination done of the entire field. She didn’t receive a single negative mark from a judge for her 19 technical elements in her two programs.

Moments later, she was in tears backstage.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

“I was just so proud of myself for staying so calm and staying so focused, doing exactly what I aimed to do,” Levito, who hasn’t finished off the podium in more than 20 events dating to November 2016, said on NBC. “I’m ready to start bouncing off the walls.”

Amber Glenn, 23, placed third and will likely become the oldest U.S. women’s singles skater to make her world championships debut in at least 45 years. Glenn botched her 11th attempt to join the list of U.S. women to land a clean triple Axel (tally according to Skatingscores.com) but still moved up from fourth after the short program, passing Starr Andrews.

Last year, Glenn entered nationals as the fourth-ranked U.S. woman and a hopeful for the three-woman Olympic team. She placed 14th in the short program, competing unknowingly with COVID-19, then tested positive and withdrew before the free skate.

In 2021, Glenn was the U.S. silver medalist, yet passed over for a spot on the two-woman world team in favor of the more experienced Karen Chen, who finished 35 hundredths behind Glenn at those nationals.

Levito, Tennell and Glenn are expected to make up the team for March’s world championships, decided by a committee.

Gracie Gold, a two-time U.S. champion who was fifth after the short program, popped a pair of planned triple Lutzes and dropped to eighth.

None of the three 2022 U.S. Olympians competed. Alysa Liu and Mariah Bell retired. Chen is a student at Cornell and might not return.

Nationals continue Saturday with the free dance and pairs’ free skate, live on NBC Sports and Peacock.

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