Claressa Shields talks homecoming, PFL future and avoiding stigmas

Claressa Shields v Hanna Gabriels - Press Conference
Claressa Shields v Hanna Gabriels - Press Conference / Terrell Groggins/GettyImages

Undisputed middleweight champion Claressa Shields talks PFL, stigmas within women boxing and Saturday's homecoming in Detroit, MI.

On Saturday night, Salita Promotions and DAZN head to the Little Ceasars Arena in Detroit, MI, to host a women’s undisputed middleweight title fight. The Ring Magazine’s No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter Claressa Shields (13-0, 2 KOs) will put her undisputed middleweight titles on the line against the top contender Maricela Cornejo (16-5, 6 KOs). This will be a massive homecoming for Shields as it will be the first time fighting in Detroit in an arena that can hold up to 15,000 fans.

Shields continues to build her profile and gain crossover appeal with those that casually watch the sport. Much of that has to do with the fact that she is a three-time undisputed champion, which is no easy feat. This homecoming is different as the venue is bigger, the stakes are higher, and she will face a late substitution in Cornejo as her original opponent Hanna Gabriels (21-2-1), tested positive for a banned substance. 

When speaking of her homecoming, Shields told FanSidedMMA, “Being a world champ, I’ve been that since my first fight. I fought in Detroit before at the Masonic Temple, which held 4,500 people. Now to see that my stardom has grown to become the first fighter to fight at the Little Ceasars Arena in front of 15,000 people is huge. I don’t know any other women who was also African American that was given an opportunity like this in the world of boxing. We have always been told, ‘You’re not big enough. You don’t sell enough tickets.’ Now people are coming out, and now they need more. I’ve been able to really change the game in that aspect and show them that women’s boxing has grown from before to now and that it’s a completely different game. To be able to have this homecoming the right way, I’m just super excited about it. I just can’t wait until June 3 to fight in front of 15,000 American fans. I haven’t fought in the U.S. in two years, so I’m going to go in there and make everyone proud.”

Claressa Shileds vs. Maricela Cornejo takes place on Saturday and will stream live on DAZN

It's only fitting that the two-time Olympic Gold Medalist gets this type of homecoming as many little girls to grown women look up to Shields and one day hope to accomplish all that she has and more. Shields is clear that what she has accomplished hasn’t been easy, and some trying times come with the title “The GWOAT.”

Shields said, “Yes, use the blueprint. I have laid out a pretty good blueprint on how you can become a world champion, fight on TV, get these huge opportunities, and get the big paydays. But what I also want to say is just make sure that whatever you’re doing, that it’s you. That you are comfortable doing it. I know I trash talk, but that’s just who I am. If you’re not a trash talker, you don’t have to talk trash. If you don’t want to be what they consider a prissy girl or a pretty girl, you don’t have to do that. Just train and work hard. Don’t let people put you in a box.”

Shields continued, “When I first turned pro, they tried to tell me, ‘This is how women boxers conduct themselves. This is how Olympic Gold Medalists conduct themselves. You should say this, or you should say that. You should wear this, or you should wear that.’ Throughout my first few years as a pro, I was always uncomfortable and frustrated because I was always being chastised about things I say, wear, or do. It always used to frustrate me because that wasn’t who I was. The moment I started to accept who I was and told them I was going to say and do what I want, is the day I found freedom, and my voice started to grasp the world. That’s when it all made sense. For a long time, I was trying to be like everyone else who they had before, but that wasn’t who I was, and it made my job harder.” 

Shields opening up about having to be someone she didn’t feel comfortable being is so important for people to read. Every day in society, people are forced into doing things or being someone they are not, and Shields is living proof that you don’t have to become status quo to make it. That is powerful. I hope more athletes in a position of influence utilize their platform to get those messages out so that people can be accepted for the person they are and not the one they aren’t. 

On Saturday, Shields looks to put on a show in front of family and friends against an opponent looking to take the titles she has worked so hard for. This is an intriguing fight that has been discussed for years. Can Cornejo go to Detroit and leave as the undisputed middleweight queen or will Shields put on another dominant performance and retain the titles? You will have to tune into DAZN on Saturday to find out.

Although she is not looking past Saturday, Shields still has her eye on MMA as she still has a deal with the Professional Fighters League (PFL).

“I’ll be fighting in MMA again towards the end of the year. I had to take a break from it because I had so many world title fights coming up and so many important things to do in boxing. So it was hard trying to train for both and not having a team in place to continue to grow in MMA. It’ll be toward the end of the year.”

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