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Boxer Shields makes history with Saudi MMA win

Undisputed boxing world champion Claressa Shields secured her second victory in MMA after a split decision win over Kelsey De Santis in Riyadh.

The fight made history as the first professional MMA bout in Saudi Arabia featuring two women.

Shields, a three-weight world champion in boxing, was visibly emotional when she was confirmed the winner.

“There were days in camp where I was literally in tears. I didn’t want to go back because it was so hard,” she said.

The MMA event came 18 months after British fighter Ramla Ali and the Dominican Republic’s Crystal Garcia Nova became the first female boxers to compete in a pro fight in the kingdom.

Shields was competing on the undercard of the Professional Fighters League’s champion versus champion event, in which Bellator’s best compete against the PFL’s best.

Women’s rights continue to be a major issue in the country despite recent reforms, and human rights groups continue to say sport as a whole is being used by the Saudi government to distract from long-standing reputation issues and accuse it of sportswashing by investing in high-profile events.

For Shields, a two-weight undisputed boxing champion, it was her first MMA fight since 2021. The American was beaten in her second MMA fight, having won her first bout in June 2021 by stoppage.

After starting strongly, De Santis tried to take advantage of Shields’ novice capabilities on the ground but the boxer’s striking in the first two rounds was enough to convince two of the three judges at cageside.

“It has such a hard camp. It’s not easy what I’m trying to do. I’ve been so respectful of the sport and I put in a lot of work,” Shields added.

She is part of a rare group of boxers like former UFC champion Holly Holms who have tried their hand at MMA beyond a one-time fight.

The 28-year-old is undefeated in 14 pro fights in boxing and is regarded by many as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, female boxer of all time.

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