Dmitriy Salita will feel a different type of nervousness when he sits beside the cage Thursday night in Atlantic City.
Claressa Shields’ promoter is uneasy when she boxes, but Salita considers the undefeated three-division champion the best female fighter, pound-for-pound, in that sport. Watching Shields make her mixed martial arts debut will elicit more anxiety because she’ll compete for the first time outside of a sport she has dominated when she battles Brittney Elkin in a three-round lightweight fight at Ocean Casino Resort.
ESPN2 will televise Shields’ first MMA match as the main event of PFL’s second-half season opener (10 p.m. EDT).
“It’s a different combat sport,” Salita told BoxingScene.com. “There’s certainly a different type of nervousness. I did some karate myself when I was younger, so I understand that it’s a different discipline. Claressa is a world-class athlete, but you always worry about what will transfer and what will not, and the atmosphere and the size of the ring and there’s so many different details that make it a different sport. So, I am definitely a different nervous for this. But Claressa put in work with some of the best trainers and the best fighters in the industry for a significant amount of time.”
The 26-year-old Shields (11-0, 2 KOs) took only a brief break after her impressive 10-round, unanimous-decision victory over Quebec’s Marie-Eve Dicaire (17-1, 0 KOs) in their 154-pound title unification match March 5 in Flint, Michigan, Shields’ hometown. She quickly resumed intense training for her MMA debut at Jackson Wink Academy, a renowned MMA gym in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
In Elkin (3-6), of Westminster, Colorado, Shields will encounter a 34-year-old opponent who was retired before she was offered a chance to face Shields. Nevertheless, Shields is taking a risk simply by competing in a sport in which the two-time Olympic gold medalist has no background.
“This is unprecedented,” Salita said. “Claressa Shields, throughout her career, has been all about breaking boundaries and taking huge steps for women’s sports, certainly for women’s boxing. She’s been the first in many of her endeavors, and now there are followers. And this is certainly, in the peak of her career, as a two-time undisputed champion, to do this is truly unprecedented. But Claressa always wanted to be a two-sport star. She has talked about this for several years now, so we, within our team, were not surprised by this.
“In her first MMA fight, she’s the main event on ESPN, in this PFL format, that features some of the best MMA fighters in the world. Which is really beautiful to see and a great compliment to boxing. The goal is that her story extends beyond the boxing fans, that her reach expands beyond the folks she’s been exposed to, and that she engages the MMA fans through her story, with her boxing career, and obviously with her success in the MMA world, to bring them over to boxing and to keep building women’s sports and to keep being the superstar that she is.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.