Claressa Shields appears to be enjoying the kind of satisfaction in the world of mixed martial arts that she was otherwise largely unable to find in boxing.
The 26-year-old three-division world champion from Flint, Michigan is slated to make her second appearance in the Professional Fighters League, an MMA organization with a playoffs format, on Oct. 27 against Abigail Montes. Shields pivoted to MMA earlier this summer – a come-from-behind third-round TKO of Brittany Elkin – out of frustration with the way she was being treated by the boxing world. Her biggest complaints have been about recognition and pay.
Shields (11-0, 2 KOs) recently described how she admired the tournament format of the PFL, while doubling down on her critique of the pay structure and inequalities in boxing.
"I think [the PFL tournament format is] super fair, and it gives you more to look forward to," Shields told Bleacher Report. "I feel like the more boxing championships I won, the more undefeated fighters I beat, the more divisions I conquered, everybody would see my work and think, 'duh, we should be paying her more than a million. We should be paying her two million, three million, four million, five.' That never happened.
"I'm super happy that the PFL is giving me those kinds of opportunities, and it's all about hard work. It's all about how much hard work you put in."
Asked to elaborate on the iniquities of the boxing business, Shields pointed the finger at sexism.
“I think it's sexism,” Shields said. "All it takes is the people in charge to give women boxers the opportunity. I feel like I get a lot of respect, and the girls at the top get a lot of respect, but there are girls who get overlooked—girls with great records and a lot of knockouts, they get overlooked because they're women.
“Even with me, I feel like I deserve more in terms of how I'm paid, how I'm promoted, how the story is told. That's something that boxing has to work on. I always tell all the women fighters to build their social media [followings], build their platform and just be in charge of their brands.”
"If I can do that, I can control my destiny in boxing too."
Despite souring on certain aspects of boxing, Shields recently signed a deal with the UK broadcaster Sky Sports to appear on their boxing cards. Shields is expected to maintain both her MMA and boxing careers simultaneously. According to her American promoter Dmitry Salita, Shields is expected to make her Sky debut later this year.