Claressa Shields is the most dominant fighter in women’s boxing. And that’s just not good enough for her.
She calls herself boxing’s GWOAT (Greatest Woman of All Time) and has so far at every stage of her young career backed up her proclamation. At age 26, Shields is already a two-time undisputed world boxing champion as well as a three-division champion. The Flint, MI, native has also earned two Olympic gold medals (2012, 2016) and has been named Sportswoman of the Year in both 2016 and 2019.
So why then, as arguably the face of women’s boxing, would Shields risk her GWOAT status by leaping into MMA? As Shields makes her PFL debut on June 10 in Atlantic City against Brittney Elkin, the opportunity to step outside her comfort zone and take on the challenge of becoming successful in two sports is a driving factor.
“It’s important for me to be recognized as a two-sport athlete because I want to show that I can do both,” says Shields, who also won 77 of 78 amateur fights. “After all my boxing accolades, there’s still a rule in which boxers don’t go to MMA. I want to change that — and show that I am the GWOAT of combat sports because I can do both.”
While she plans on making a full return to boxing, Shields is now in full-mode MMA training in Albuquerque, NM, at the Jackson Wink Academy, which has produced champions such as UFC superstar Jon Jones, and Holly Holm, also a former boxer who went on to win a UFC title.
In this week’s Winning Strategy, the champ explains how everyone can become multidimensional talents, as well as how defeat can become a key ingredient to success. Shields also shares who GWOATs look up to, and some famous words she lives by to this day.
MOTIVATED BY ‘MONEY’
I think it’s very important for me to be a role model for both women and also little boys who look up to me. If anyone puts their minds to it and puts in the hard work, they can do whatever they want.
But it’s also important to remain true to yourself in the process. I want to give women the power that they can be the women they want to be — boxing is not just a man’s sport.
For me, I look up to Floyd Mayweather for some leadership guidance. He lived by his own rules, made his own money, and never cared what people said about him. He did whatever he wanted while continuing to be great at boxing.
I also admire Serena Williams and Beyonce — they’re just the best at what they do. Beyonce didn’t put herself in a box by simply being an R&B singer. She raps, sings, dances — she does hard songs as well as soft ballads. When “Lemonade” came out, everyone was like, Whoa, this is a new Beyonce, but it wasn’t — it was just a part of her she hadn’t shown. She never let anyone put her in that box.
These people helped give me the power to prove that I can do both boxing and MMA. And just because people say it can’t be done doesn’t mean I have to put myself in that box of being either a boxer of MMA fighter — I can be both. I can be both girly and tomboyish. I can be humble and trash talk. No one will ever out me in a box — and it’s because of these people.
Having a routine is a great thing for any athlete, but sometimes adding something new to a routine or just giving yourself a break is necessary. If you’re training several times a day all week, by Friday, your body will wear down. I think that messes with some people when they’re unable to finish out the week. When my body says, Hey, chill out, Claressa,” I’m more than willing to chill out and give my body a rest or cut a workout short.
My boxing routine requires strength and conditioning workouts in the morning. Then I’ll train again with another two- to three-hour boxing session. I’ll hit the bag or pads with my coach and work on certain combinations. Then it’s working on the game plan and watching film. All that is about three hours. At the end of the day, there may even be a nighttime session or just an early morning session the following day.
But with MMA, my training has become completely different. I make myself get up early in the morning to do my cardio. My coaches [at Jackson Wink] right now are showing me a lot of new techniques, which my body still needs to be conditioned to do. I’ll work on wrestling drills for about 45 minutes, then learn how to fight off the cage and against it, also learn how to take somebody down when they’re trying to resist.
Two hours later, I have kickboxing, then it’s jiujitsu. That’s a full day for me every day — unless I break the routine and say, “You know what? I’m gonna give myself a rest.”
LOSING IS A TEACHABLE MOMENT
What I learned from my one loss (as an amateur in 2012) was: What will be for you is for you and what’s not won’t be. It means you don’t give up or be down on yourself.
That one loss made me train so much harder and become hungrier — and it made winning more important.
At the time, maybe I was a bit young and got to a place where maybe I didn’t train hard enough. But I know for sure after that, I’ve put in the work for every opponent, whether she was great, decent, or bad. So now when I get in the ring with girls who are really good fighters, I’m able to make them look average because of how good I am and all the work I’ve put in.
SAVE THE BEST FOR NEXT
The best piece of advice I ever received was from Kenny Sims (father of boxer Kenneth Sims Jr.). He said this: “Your best is never good enough because your best is always yet to come.”
That line stuck with me because I’ve always wanted to have a perfect performance — you know, get the knockout or just get the wins. And ever since I was an amateur, I’ve always had my fights graded. I’d get a B for one fight, a C for the next. I could knock a girl out in 10 seconds and [my coach] would be like, that was a C+ — you threw your right hand too wide. He was always super hard on me.
But even after my best performances, it’s still not good enough because my best is yet to come. I haven’t had that moment yet come as a professional, but I’ve dethroned some really great world champions and have been able to become a two-time division world champion and two-time undisputed. So that’s good.
My favorite quote is from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”
What it means is, someone will be mad about stuff that happened yesterday or even months ago. But in order to grow, both as a boxer and as a person, the most important thing is to leave that bad training day behind you.
You’re gonna have those days: Somebody hits you with some punches that you shouldn’t have gotten hit with. You got hurt with some body shots you shouldn’t have gotten hit with. But finish the day and be done with it. That training day becomes yesterday — now you get the chance to start again. You get to go to the gym today and fight again, and you should be better prepared for the next sparring session.
I used to take bad training days very personal, whether it was sparring or being unable to get down a certain move or combination correctly. In my mind I would be super hard on myself. The next day I’d be thinking about that bad day and it would mess with me all day. Then I’d have another bad workout because of what happened a day ago.
Now I like to look forward and be like, you did what you could yesterday. Some blunders happened, but get past them as soon as you can. Today’s a new day. That’s the quote I live by.