Claressa Shields aims to be 'the best female fighter alive'

TORONTO -- UFC champion Ronda Rousey doesn't have to worry about getting into the ring and facing Claressa Shields. At least not yet.

"I'm not ever doing mixed martial arts," said Shields, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist in women's middleweight boxing. "I don't understand the sport. Ronda is great at what she does, but, for one thing, I don't know how to wrestle. I'm a straight boxer. I know the sweet science. I don't know how to fight off the ground or be on the ground.

"But in the middle of my professional career, if Ronda wants to transfer over to boxing, I'll box her and we can make a deal. First, she boxes me, then I go into the MMA ring. ... I know for a fact I would beat her in boxing. That's simple. But MMA? Uh, no. I'd give [the win] to her, but I would give her a fight."

Shields definitely would because that's the way she is. She is a fighter, and a good one. At age 17, she won the first women's gold medal in London and the only gold for the entire U.S. boxing team. She hasn't lost a fight since then in 2012 and won middleweight gold at these Pan Am Games on Friday. And she expects more after that.

"After the 2016 Olympics, after getting gold again, I definitely want to go pro," she said. "Hopefully, I get signed by [manager] Al Haymon and become a multi-millionaire fighter like Floyd Mayweather." She laughs. "That's what I hope. But my goal overall, beside getting rich and everything, is to just go down as the best female fighter alive."

While growing up in Flint, Michigan, Shields' father was in and out of prison for selling drugs. She often didn't live with her mother, either, instead staying with her aunt, or later, with her former boxing coach.

"I got into street fights in school, but I was very weak-minded as a child," she said. "The things people say to me now, if they had said it back then, it would affect me a lot more. Now I'm able to handle words a lot better. I can handle the physical stuff, but sometimes words, if they hit my heart the wrong way, they make me want to go crazy."

Shields got into boxing at age 11 because the sport was her father's passion and he had been disappointed when her brother wouldn't get into it.

"If my dad had said track was his passion, I would be in track. If he had said basketball, I'd be playing basketball in college," Shields said. "His passion was boxing, though, so Shields said: "OK, I'll go to the gym and let my dad live his life through me."

She is giving him quite the career to live through vicariously. Shields has lost only one bout in her career, to Savanna Marshall at the 2012 World Championships in China shortly before the Olympics. She says that pre-London adversity made her better.

"That fight was the highlight of my career because I trained so much harder after it," Shields said. "I'm mean, but I turned a lot meaner than I am. I didn't talk to anybody. I had this huge chip on my shoulder. I trained so hard for the Olympics and I trained that hard again afterward so I don't get beat again. Because I don't think I can handle it."

Despite the gold medal and overall record, Shields says she has had only two endorsements, including one with the Universal Kidney Foundation that covers her travel expenses when USA Boxing does not. "You would think my record would say something," Shields said. "Fifty-nine wins and one loss -- Hello! Light bulb, people!"

Still, Shields says, "I'm kind of thankful I didn't get all those endorsements when I was 17. I wouldn't have known how to handle it. If I had gotten any endorsements then, I would probably be broke right now anyway. Now I'm 20, I think I can handle it a lot more."

Shields currently trains at the U.S. Olympic Center in Colorado Springs, which she says was a good decision even if it meant leaving her friends in Flint.

"Colorado Springs is a lot more boring than Flint, believe it or not," she said. "They have great athletes, but everyone is so focused on their sport, it's kind of hard to make friends there. The difference is I get a lot more sleep, I train a lot more at the Olympic Center and I get to do what I want when and how I want do it. It's time to be making all my decisions on my own."

Shields won all three Pan Am Games bouts by unanimous decision, beating Brazil's Flavia Tereza Figueiredo on Monday, Argentina's Lucia Perez on Tuesday, and Yenebier Guillen Benitez of the Dominican Republic on Friday. She expected to win, but she also expected good fights from her opponent.

"A lot of the girls, they look horrible fighting against everybody else, but they look really good fighting against me. That's because they want to beat an Olympic gold medalist," she said. "I would be the same way. When I fought against three-time world champion Mary Spencer ... I went out and fought her harder than I ever fought anybody else in my career and I was able to beat her.

"That's what fighters do. They want to fight the best and beat the best."