Having previously received advice from Conor McGregor about her move into MMA, Claressa Shields – the world’s pound-for-pound No. 1 female boxer – has some words of wisdom in return for ‘The Notorious’ as he looks to avenge his recent loss to Dustin Poirier.
In a wide ranging interview for the Betway Insider, Shields – who will box in March and make her MMA debut in June – discusses how difficult it is to transition into a new sport, why she finds boxing training “boring” and her interest in working with UFC president Dana White.
The Olympic gold medallist also reveals how former UFC champions Holly Holm and Jon Jones have helped convince her that she can upset the sports betting odds and climb to the pinnacle of MMA.
You’ve previously had conversations with Conor McGregor. Do you think he can avenge his defeat to Dustin Poirier?
“Yeah, Conor can avenge it but it’s going to take some hard work. He’s been out of the MMA cage for a while, I know he had his last fight but before his last fight he’d probably been out two or three years.
“I would say he needs to get out of the boxing mindframe to win that fight. He had his front foot too forward, too much weight on his leg, more like a boxer’s stance. It’s like he needs to get back to having light feet and [being] quick and explosive, using all his attributes, not just his punches; punches, kicks, knees, he needs to get back being creative.
“But I tell you what, it’s hard to do. It’s hard to cut off the boxing switch and cut on the MMA switch.
“When you’re doing both it’s hard, you have to be very mentally strong and say ‘this is MMA, everything goes’ and then you have to click that button and go to boxing and say ‘this is boxing, there are rules’, so I can just imagine that after being out of the cage for so long that his mind was adjusting and still looking to land those big shots.
“He probably didn’t generate it in his mind, he needs to go his mind and click on the ‘everything’ switch and use every part of the body as a weapon. I know he was boxing against Floyd but he needs to cut off the boxing switch and focus strictly on MMA for at least three or four months.”
How helpful did you find the advice you received from McGregor about your transition to MMA?
“It was very welcoming. To me, Jon Jones is the GOAT in MMA, but Conor was considered the GOAT once upon a time too and they’re both great in their own right.
“I just feel when Conor reached out, I feel like in a way he actually cared and he was wishing me good luck and that’s what I appreciated most.
“He didn’t have to give me any advice, he could have just seen it and kept on but instead he was like ‘I’m going to give out this advice’, and it was great. I took it, I use it and hopefully everything goes as it’s supposed to go.”
What happened with your cancelled agreement to join the UFC and are you still interested in working with Dana White if he goes into boxing promotion?
“I was in training camp, we had contracts signed, everything was good. I don’t know exactly what happened, I actually had a conversation with Dana after everything got cancelled and he said he was sorry that everything fell through and it was something about the bubble. It was a bubble concern.
“I didn’t ask him the details, I was so disappointed, I just kind of had to move onto the next thing but that’s what happened, something to do with the bubble. But contracts were signed, opponents were picked, another all women’s card.
“I don’t know whether he’s going through with that [Zuffa Boxing] he may be taking a step back, figuring everything out. I really don’t have any idea what’s going on with that or if he’s still going to do that, but if he does, of course I’ll be super interested to talk with him and have a great conversation with him of course, because me and him are actually cool. But I have no idea, that’s for him to let us know.”
How have you found the experience of crossing over into MMA so far?
“It’s been a very humbling learning curve for one. And then two: it opened my mind and body up to what I can actually do, like all the punches I can throw, how my body can work as one together; jab, right hand, hook, kick, side kick, leg kick, knee.
“There are so many combinations, and then also you can add in punches with takedowns and you have to avoid these things too, there’s just so much to learn. Sometimes I tell the coaches ‘Hey, I’m having a brain freeze’ can we just focus on five or six things, but it’s like I’m learning everything so fast that coaches want to teach me more and more.
“Kicking, takedowns and avoiding takedowns has been the easiest thing I’ve learned and I thought that would be super hard, especially the wrestling part. I actually enjoy learning how to manipulate the body weight and how to use my weight, which I’m already doing before but now just using it to my advantage, or if they’re using too much of their strength, how I can manipulate or move them.
“I kind of thought that wrestling would frustrate me but it hasn’t. The hardest thing is Jiu Jitsu for me. I do it everyday and do it over and over again. Fighting on the ground is hard. I’m so used to standing up and now I’m on the ground and it does not feel as good.”
What are the differences in training for MMA compared to boxing?
“[Boxing has] been pretty boring, to be honest. MMA has so many different disciplines and I have three different coaches for three different reasons, but they’re all working to mould me into the fighter who I am supposed to be. Boxing training is: jab, right, uppercut, hook – there are no knees, no superman punches, no kicks to the head, no takedowns, no sprawling. [Boxing] is less complicated but not as much fun.
“Boxing has always been kind of boring to me, the training is very repetitive, doing the same stuff. MMA is a different kind of excitement but is also a different kind of fear too.
“It’s exciting but I have to worry about being kicked and being taken down. It makes your mind have to think faster and I really enjoy that. In MMA everything is out of the ordinary, it’s explosive.”
Would you consider moving from boxing to MMA full-time, like Holly Holm?
“Holly accomplished a whole lot in boxing, also she was older than me when she transitioned, so I think she wanted to take advantage of the time she had left. She decided to just focus on MMA. For me, I’m a lot younger, and have been boxing my whole life, so it’s not like I just can just give it up.
“I wouldn’t be alright spiritually because I love boxing so much, it’s a part of me. Holly Holm, back in her day, she did kickboxing, while it’s only been boxing for me. So it was easier to go to MMA with the fact she did kickboxing and boxing before, she only needed to add Jiu Jitsu and wrestling to her resume and she was a great MMA fighter.
“But I can definitely see why she chose to focus on one. It’s hard, but I’m a lot younger and I have maybe a lot more energy to just go for both of them. But that’s my goal: to be boxing world champion and to be an MMA world champion at the same time, that’s the overall goal.”
Have Holly Holm and Jon Jones helped to convince you that you can achieve that goal?
“Absolutely, they’re not just telling me that because I’m Claressa Shields, a great boxer, but they’re saying that off of my work ethic. I think after my first week of training, they were all like: ‘Claressa, you’re a workaholic, you’re special, and you’re going to have a great future in MMA, as long as you keep training as hard as you train’.
“Just hearing that was like, alright, at least I know that I can do the training because that’s something I was worrying about too – can I even do all this training, can I do kickboxing and mixed martial arts?
“Wrestling, Jiu Jitsu, can I even practice all those things, and can my body adjust to it? That was a concern I had. But ever since I went to the Jackson Wink gym it’s been all going so smooth and all worked out.”
How much are you looking forward to getting back to MMA after your upcoming boxing match in March?
“I can’t wait to get back in the MMA gym. The PFL have announced their lightweight division for the PFL league, and even though I’m trying so hard to not think about MMA, I had to look up every last one of them girls’ names.
“I had to. It just didn’t sit right with me not to. I had to look these girls up, I had to know who is in the tournament, what their record, what their background is and I did a whole little background check on the list.
“Two boxing matches and two MMA fights, that’s what it is looking like. I just know I have my first MMA fight in the middle of June. We might find out who my opponent is around the same time as you find out I don’t know who the opponent is going to be, I should find out soon.”