What If Olympic Boxing Champ Claressa Shields Went to the UFC?


From The Desk Of Kenny Rice

It depends on the intent. Speculation can be dangerous as a continuation of rumors that turn out not to be true. Speculation can be deceptive if the intention is to see what the public will accept. And speculation can make for a fun debate, the evergreen ‘What If?’ that passes time at a bar, around the pool or over dinner.

This is the later, doubtful that it would ever happen, but it would be interesting if it did.

What if Claressa Shields, the only U.S. boxer to ever win consecutive Olympic Gold Medals went to the UFC? She is without question the most famous female boxer and has no peers in her 165 pound, middleweight class. That she even returned to the Games of Rio after standing on the top podium in London four years ago exemplifies the overall demand for women in professional boxing. There are pros, but even ardent observers of the sweet science are hard pressed to roll off the tongue the female fighters on the current scene. Next to Shields, Laila Ali, who retired undefeated nine years back, is the other name that comes to mind instantly.

Shields has the option of remaining amateur adding to the two world championships she already holds in addition to those matching Olympic Golds, and focusing on three in a row in 2020. Perhaps there would be enough endorsement deals along the way to sustain her financially and that might even be comparable to a pro contract. That is the conundrum of being the best in your sport but one that is virtually unnoticed in the sense of relating to a well paying future. Olympic medalist Shakur Stevenson and Nico Hernandez and quarterfinalist Gary Russell and Carlos Balderas will be signing on the dotted line to get paid for their pugilist services and likely before there is an offer worthy of Shields’ attention.

It might not be a bias against female fighters as much as the lack of cultivating a brand for women in boxing as the UFC has done, even partnering with the ground breaking all-female fighting organization Invicta to cultivate rising stars. The UFC has made it a fighter is a fighter and even a headliner if they merit the interest of the fans.

One former Olympic bronze medalist in judo has become as famous as any combative sport participant, male or female, cage or ring. Ronda Rousey brought not only talent, but charisma and then some, plus that uncanny ability to seize a moment and a microphone when necessary.

Sara McMann, an Olympic silver medalist in wrestling, also found a niche in the UFC. It would be unfair to compare their careers except that neither of them would’ve made the cash as a pro in their speciality that they have in MMA. While it might seem absurd to talk about pro judo or pro (the non scripted) wrestling, unfortunately for female boxers they haven’t advanced much further.

Which comes back to the What If Shields went to the UFC? The 21 year old hasn’t hit her prime even with those bookend golds. The league wants the best and she is that. The weight is a factor but maybe not, the new catchweight class emerges around 150-155. The marketing job just got easier. A boxing champ, Holly Holm, has had her moment and a belt, proving there is the possibility of transitioning. Cris Cyborg seems like the perfect matchup, or start her out with Holm. Too much standup for an MMA match? Anyone watch McGregor-Diaz II ?

Which brings us back to What Likely Will Happen with Shields? She could stay amateur with enough sponsorships and again, that might be as lucrative as a pro boxing contract in the near future. And the chance for a third gold is a motivator of which no US boxer has ever related. Plus Shields has never hinted she wanted to try MMA.

Leaving the squared circle for the octagon is a long shot at best, but a great dream.

– Kenny

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