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Atlantic City—Claressa Shields won her mixed martial arts debut fight where no one expected—on the ground.
The undefeated boxing champion and Olympic gold medalist faced off against Brittney Elkin June 10, where their completely different fighting styles clashed.
Elkin, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter, sought to keep the fight where she was most comfortable—grappling on the ground and away from Shields’s heavy hands.
For the first two rounds, she was safe. Aside from a couple heavy shots from Shields that landed, Elkin successfully took Shields to the ground and held her there for the majority of the first two rounds, but was unable to finish the fight.
The third round looked like it was about to go the same way until Shields was able to scramble away from Elkin—and made an interesting choice. Having gotten back up to her feet and being able to take the fight back to her domain, striking, Shields, after landing a heavy punch to Elkin’s face, returned to the ground, took top position, and started raining down blows until the referee stopped the fight, giving her the win by TKO.
With only seven months of grappling training, Shields’s ability to survive the first two rounds on the ground and win in the third is impressive by any measure.
“I feel like I am dreaming!” she said following the fight in an interview.
Shields said she knew she lost the first two rounds. “When that third round came, I said I’m about to just to dog her, and I went crazy. I just went crazy after that,” she said. “I heard my coach saying ‘Let her up.’ They were saying, ‘Let her up.’ And I told myself, ‘Hell no.'”
Shields’s win now makes her undefeated in two combat sports.
Having won every belt and title she could in boxing, including two Olympic gold medals, Shields made the move to MMA to earn more money—and respect.
Shields has been outspoken about the huge disparity between women’s and men’s pay in boxing, arguing that she and her fellow female athletes deserve to be treated—and paid—the same as men.
MMA, a sport where women get considerably more attention as fighters, might be the way she can make that happen.
It will be a battle—there’s still a lot for Shields, who has been boxing since she was a kid, starting in the basement at Berston Fieldhouse, to learn. But then, fighting battles is what Shields does. In addition to all her fights, Shields has been outspoken about her fights outside the ring, including those with poverty and abuse.
Facing fighters of other disciplines is the next battle, and if her first fight is any indication, it’s one she’s ready for.
“Listen, I never doubted myself winning a boxing match in my life. MMA, it’s something I was like, it’s possible I could lose this first fight. I don’t want to lose, but I’m going to try dang hard not to lose,” she said, still breathing heavily after the fight.
“Never give up. That’s what I told myself.”
You can see highlights of the fight here.