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Crossover star Holly Holm Adds New Dimensions to Claressa Shields

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  • Kid Blast
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    Holm was a superb boxer. Tough as nails. One of my all-time favorite female fighters.

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  • Crossover star Holly Holm Adds New Dimensions to Claressa Shields

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    By Kelsey McCarson

    She laughs about it now, but back then it wasn't all that funny.

    Boxing champion Holly Holm was competing in her first professional MMA fight, and all her years of training inside the ropes as a world champion boxer had just taken over her entire body.

    Holm had kicked her opponent down to the ground, so she did what any well-schooled boxer would do. She pivoted away from her fallen prey and headed over to the neutral corner.

    All of that was wrong.

    "What are you doing?" her coach yelled from cageside. "Finish her!"

    It was Holm's first big mistake in moving over from boxing to MMA, but she was lucky that night. It turned out that Holm's opponent was finished whether she had run over there or not, so it was a lesson she could learn without much consequence.

    But the instruction of that moment stands true today, so it's just one of the many things Holm has shared with 25-year-old boxing champion Claressa Shields as the two-time Olympic gold medalist attempts to follow in her footsteps.

    "I was thinking yeah, that will definitely happen to me!" Shields said.

    After Shields signed a three-year promotional deal in December with the Professional Fighters League (PFL), the first thing Shields needed to do was look for the right gym.

    Shields found that place at Jackson Wink MMA Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico, one of the most famous MMA gyms in the country, and the one most recognized among the masses as the home gym of former UFC women's bantamweight champion Holm and pound-for-pound king Jon Jones.

    Holm remains the only fighter (male or female) to have won legit world championships in both boxing and MMA, and Shields said Holm welcomed her to Jackson Wink with open arms.

    "She's been super great and very nice to me. We both come from the same background...and she actually turned out to be a world champion [in MMA], actually turned out to be really good," Shields said.

    But Holm's funny story about her first MMA fight is something that points to just how large a hill Shields has decided to climb.

    Whereas pop culture has just recently started to realize the power of habits through the work of writers such as Charles Duhigg and James Clear, it's something professional fighters have known for a long time now.

    "Oh, you're going to have a habit of this because you used to box."

    That's something Holm tells Shields almost every time they work together, and there are just so many examples.

    In fact, just watching the 25-year-old boxing champion trying to learn to do all these new things in a different way is exhausting.

    That Shields practically lives inside the gym for weeks at a time so she can train four or five times a day for all the kinds of things she never had to worry about before as a professional boxer is a testament to her seriousness and her courage.

    But perhaps the most amazing part of the entire story is that Shields still plans on boxing.

    While Holm won world championships in both sports, she achieved those things separately. Meanwhile, Shields said she wants to do the same thing Holm did but at the same time.

    So, while I'm standing there with her inside an MMA cage in New Mexico, Shields is plotting fights in both sports. On one hand, she’s talking to me about a title unification bout in boxing against Marie-Eve Dicaire. On the other, she's talking about future superfights in MMA against the likes of UFC champ Amanda Nunes.

    "I'm trying to separate the two," Shields said specifically about her training that day but she might as well have been talking about her whole life right about now.

    It's arguably the most amazing storyline right now in combat sports.

    Shields started boxing when she was just 11 years old. She earned her first gold medal at the Olympics at 17 and her second four years later.

    Today, Shields is a three-division world champion, and she says she's not nearly finished adding to her growing number of boxing belts.

    But all those years and all those successes have built so many habits. Ducking and slipping is great for boxing, but both become considerable detriments to defense when you suddenly have to worry about things like knees and kicks.

    And what about wrestling and jiu-jitsu?

    But all that stuff together is exactly what makes Shields' epic decision to dare to be great at both sports at the same time so amazing in the first place.

    Look, Shields might never accomplish the same amazing feat Holm did when she shocked Ronda Rousey in 2015 for the UFC women's bantamweight championship.

    But she's aiming to eclipse that incredible mark anyway, and with Holm and many others offering Shields ideas about what she needs to think about as she climbs up the steepest hill she can find, she'll definitely have her best chance at doing it.

    Kelsey McCarson covers combat sports for Bleacher Report and Heavy.

    Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel
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