I am still coming down from the excitement I felt for Claressa Shields cross over win in MMA tonight from Atlantic City. I will be honest after two completed rounds I was thinking of titles for this post in preparation to write about her game performance in defeat. Then, Shields came roaring out in the final round and scored with her right hand and sprawled to fend off a desperate takedown attempt from Brittaney Elkins. Her hips got high and it seemed like she might get reversed but Claressa maintained control and rained right hands on her prone opponent. I will admit I was locked in during the final exchange jumping up and down throwing air punches. Shields celebrated with total joy and elation as she shouted and laughed and jumped to the fence. She was so proud of herself and described the victory as dreamlike. It had started off as a nightmare for the initial ten minutes.
Shields was presented a very different challenge tonight as she made her MMA debut for the Professional Fighters League on ESPN. The two time Olympic Gold Medalist in boxing and three time boxing world champion was entering very new territory in the cage and had to prepare for a very different type of fight than she is used to. I have seen many skilled and talented boxers cross into MMA and kickboxing and be totally out of depth and get embarrassed. Even though Shields lost the first two rounds she never looked uncomfortable and displayed a pretty good array of skills despite her inexperience with wrestling and grappling. Elkins came out to start the first round in a Thai kickboxing stance and was looking to use a height and reach advantage to nullify Shields’ superior boxing. Shields was kept at bay and did not land from the feet before being taken down by Elkins. She remained calm on her back and used her guard effectively and was not hit with any serious strikes. She fended off multiple submission attempts and got out of the round. Normally when a fighter is pinned down like that they come out very sluggish in the next round but Shields was well conditioned. Shields scored early with her right hand and looked to hurt Elkins. Elkins intelligently fell to a single leg to survive and Shields got over ambitious and tried to lower her hips and secure a top position but over shot and was again on her back. Commentator Randy Couture referred to this as a costly mistake chalked up to inexperience and was a serious reversal of fortune as Shields went from hurting Elkins to back on the ground.
Shields showed more of the same from her back and tried to hip up and punch up when there was space between them. Elkins secured an arm bar down the stretch of the round and it looked like that was about to be the clincher. Shields surprisingly got lose and got on top of Elkins and winged rights and lefts to the sides of Elkins head and ripped in a few hammer fists. It looked like a good sign for Shields who survived and looked stronger at the buzzer as Elkins was slow to rise to her feet. At this point the fight was 20-18 all the way for Elkins and with five minutes to go it was clear that Shields needed to get the finish in order to get her hand raised. Shields got to work early in the round and Elkins went for the leg. This time Shields got her legs back and her hips down and fought the grip. Though Elkins had been stuffed it appeared that a knee slide or hip shift may have gotten Shields to slip down and lose control. Shields got back to her feet and while Elkins was down she reengaged the grappler on the ground. Again Couture commented that he felt Shields should have completely disengaged and let the fight go back to the feet where she was in complete control. Shields took a risky position on the side of Elkins as she controlled the hip and struck with short right hands from under the arm. The risk paid off and she won by TKO to secure a victory in her debut.
I give Shields a ton of credit for even doing this, she is a dominant boxer with unified titles and could easily continue to dominate her sport. Instead she has ambitiously decided to exit her comfort zone and risk loss, injury and embarrassment to fuel her goal of being the best female fighter in the world. She has clearly worked on the finer points of MMA and did some things very well. Besides the poise she showed, I was impressed with her wizzer and her sprawl and the way she escaped the arm bar. Elkins is only 3-7 as a fighter so the tests will only be tougher but I think they are building from a good foundation. If she can clean up the beginner mistakes and keep the fights on the feet and in her wheelhouse she can score some knockouts because her hands are dangerous. I do wonder how she will fare against a better fighter in the mount and with kicks. Elkins attempted kicks but Shields managed to step out of the way of each one.
Also on the card was Clay Collard who is one of my favorite fighters right now. He won a grueling split decision to go 2-0 in the season and advance to the PFL play off with 9 points at lightweight. He defeated former UFC champion Anthony Pettis earlier this year and survived 8 takedowns to out strike Joilton Lutterbach. I was not sure which way the judges were going to go as Collard spent a lot of the fight on his back but did score from the mat. All in all it was a good card over all with a final second submission to several come from behind KO’s!
Off to the gym for a late night session!