Undisputed super middleweight champion Savannah Marshall is the latest female fighter in the ESPN boxing pound-for-pound top 10 to make a foray into mixed martial arts.
Marshall, ESPN's No. 10 pound-for-pound fighter, announced Tuesday she is signing with the Professional Fighters League in an attempt to compete in MMA as well as box. She anticipates her first MMA fight will come in 2024.
"I've pondered on the idea for years because at one point, female boxing just seemed like it wasn't going anywhere," Marshall told ESPN. "This is pre-COVID. I'm quite good friends with Molly McCann, who is in the UFC, and I just seen the opportunities she was getting and the UFC were treating the men just as well as they were treating the women, so I had contemplated on the fact of moving to MMA.
"I did a bit of [Brazilian jiu-jitsu] and MMA in the past, not a lot, only a little bit, and the opportunity had come up and I'm in a position now where I believe the PFL, it's one of the biggest MMA sports organizations in the world, can take my profile to the next level."
Marshall (13-1, 10 KOs in boxing) said the PFL initially approached her after her fight against Claressa Shields, ESPN's No. 1 pound-for-pound boxer. Shields and Amanda Serrano (No. 3) are the other top-10 boxers signed to the PFL for MMA. Marshall and the PFL reached agreement on a multifight deal after months of negotiations.
Marshall said that at this point, she has just "dabbled" in MMA training. For two decades, Marshall said, she has trained with the same combinations and movements in boxing, so this is something "breaking the mold for me."
She knows there will be a learning curve. But that is also what excites her about learning a second combat sport from almost the start, a level of "intrigue" she hasn't felt in a while. Marshall has done a few sessions with McCann, and in those sessions with her and other fighters, it was the first time she ended up being choked out.
"And I don't even think she even put the squeeze on," Marshall said. "I was gasping for breath thinking, 'Oh my God.' It was definitely a buzz."
Marshall, 32, made clear that boxing still will come first and her MMA career will be built around her boxing. However, both are on hold for a little while. Marshall injured her right hand in her win over Franchon Crews-Dezurn on July 1 that made her the undisputed super middleweight champion. Marshall said she felt pain down her index finger in the second round of her unanimous decision win and that she couldn't make a fist without pain the rest of the fight.
Marshall had surgery three weeks ago to repair the injury, and she can't start training for either boxing or MMA for another month or two. She said "more than likely" she is done fighting for 2023, with hopes of returning to the ring or making her debut in the cage early next year.
Marshall's mandatory opponent for her undisputed title is Shadasia Green, ESPN's No. 2 super middleweight, who defeated Olivia Curry by unanimous decision earlier this month.
Marshall said there are talks between her camp and Green's, and that facing Green "is a massive fight for me because it's two big punchers going head to head." But she said there hasn't been a decision made on her next fight.
There also is the potential for a rematch with Shields in boxing -- and the possibility of a fight between the two in MMA since both are signed to the PFL. Marshall said that opportunity was part of her decision to join the PFL, because she doesn't believe she'll get the rematch in the ring.
"I'm under no illusion that's probably one of the main reasons why they wanted to sign me," Marshall said. "And that is something that I'm looking forward to in the future and I'm not sure about the men but I know there's definitely not two other women that boxed in the ring and fought in the SmartCage.
"So I think it would be massive, and like I said, our rivalry still lives on."
Marshall and Shields have a long history dating to their amateur boxing days and have made clear they are not friends. Marshall joked she felt like she was potentially chasing Shields to another sport to get the fight.
"Well, there's no one really out there who I want to punch in the face more than Claressa," Marshall said. "Or kick in the face."
Either way, Marshall says giving a second sport a chance will raise her profile and provide a challenge she wouldn't have gotten before.
"I've been given an opportunity that two years ago would never have come my way," Marshall said.