In the final press conference before making her professional MMA debut on Thursday night in Atlantic City, the duality of Flint, Michigan, boxing hero Claressa Shields was on full display.
She was, of course, confident.
“Truth is, Brittney Elkin is going to lose, period,” Shields said during her opening response.
Shields continued to disrespect her opponent in an attempt at honesty.
“I didn’t come to the (Professional Fighters League) just to have my beautiful record in boxing and all my accomplishments detoured by someone who’s not really even a serious fighter,” Shields said. “Brittney has been in MMA for 12 years and hasn’t been great at anything except for jiu-jitsu.”
And, in only a way that Shields can, she dialed it back to make time for thoughtfulness when the opportunity presented itself.
How ‘T-Rex’ turned into a fighting force
“T-Rex” became a world champion at 22, in just her fourth pro fight, with a win in super middleweight over Nikki Adler. She handed Christina Hammer her first loss in 2019 to unify the middleweight title, and did the same to Marie Eve Dicaire for the super welterweight title this past March.
The only triple-division champion in boxing’s history, the 26-year-old Shields has run out of web to spin in a boxing world that can no longer feed her appetite. That hunger is for big prey, a larger audience and the dollars that come with it.
Her caliber was continually being compared to that of UFC stars Holly Holm and Amanda Nunes, which is the short version of how she got to be fighting in Thursday’s lightweight bout.
“It was just something in my heart that was like, maybe you should get good, to where if you fought those girls in MMA, you could beat them,” Shields said. “That would be way bigger than beating them in boxing, because you already know that nobody can beat you in boxing.”
The risks of Claressa Shields making her MMA debut
Her jump to fighting in MMA, the first of its kind, is undoubtedly a big step — and a risky one, at that.
When Shields burst onto the scene in her early 20s, she had an ax to grind, the muscle to keep swinging and a mouth that never failed to run in concert with a blazing-quick set of feet. As MMA is quickly finding out, she loves talking, and that’s helped lengthen a list of people in the sport of boxing that desperately want to either see her suffer a silencing loss, or to be exposed.
For all the trouble, it was hardly worth it anymore.
“I just felt like in boxing, I had accomplished everything already,” Shields said. “You put in all the hard work, and you think there’s going to be a certain fight, that when you beat this certain person, you become this superstar, or you get this million dollars, this big house and nice car and stuff.
“I’m just tired of not getting my just due, and not repeating what I sow.”
MMA pits uncertainty vs. familiarity
In shifting her title from “boxer” to “fighter,” Claressa Shields has opened herself up for such backlash in her MMA debut. Her fight against Elkin (3-6, 1 KO) — in which Shields is actually favored by DraftKings, FanDuel and BetMGM sportsbooks alike — is accompanied by a lot of pressure. Shields certainly feels that push. But with a bigger purpose at play, she’s not afraid of the consequences.
“Hard work can never just be for nothing. All of my hard work has gotten me to where I am today, it’s how I’ve gotten this position to be a main event in just my MMA debut,” Shields said.
“Regardless of everything, just my overall goal is to one day be MMA world champ and be boxing world champ, so right now, I just want to get that experience, get the Ws and just continue to move forward. But I don’t think that my hard work could ever be put in vain, because hard work always makes you better, regardless of any outcome.”
Shields has already brought the candor and aggressive nature that made boxing world into her world. The only difference is the measure of uncertainty that lingers in a new sport. But even that journey has reminded her she’s still in a familiar place.
“I think it was two months ago when I was able to do my whole little cakewalk. That was something me and my manager wanted to have, because we’ve never done it before,” Shields said. “Without even having my opponent in the cage waiting for me, I just felt so many nerves.
“Boxing and MMA is all about war. It’s me vs. you, woman vs. woman, man vs. man. And can’t nobody help you in there.”
Professional Fighters League 2021 No. 4: Shields vs. Elkin
Where: Atlantic City, N.J.,
When: Undercard, 6:30 p.m. ESPN+; Main card, 10 p.m., ESPN2
DraftKings odds: Shields -335, Elkin +245
FanDuel odds: Shields -280, Elkin +220
BetMGM odds: Shields -250, Elkin +190