One of the biggest headlines circling the early portion of the PFL vs. Bellator card is the MMA return of decorated boxing champion Claressa Shields. Before turning pro, Shields became the first American boxer to win consecutive gold medals in boxing at the Olympics. Since then, she’s unbeaten in the sport, holding a 14-0 record and winning championships in three different weight classes. Shields became the quickest to win pro boxing titles in three different divisions, including winning undisputed gold at middleweight and light middleweight.


Shields competed in MMA twice with the PFL in 2021, defeating Brittney Elkin via third-round TKO and dropping a split decision to Abigail Montes.


Kelsey De Santis, a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, was 3-0 as an amateur before making her professional MMA debut in 2013, dropping a split decision to Al-Lanna Jones. Ten years later, De Santis, a U.S. Marine Corps Veteran, returned to the cage with a decision loss to Amanda Bell, but she rebounded by scoring a first-round knockout of Kathleen Nelson in October.


Will Shields have a successful MMA return, or will De Santis play spoiler in a major way?



Round 1


The two come out slowly. Low kick and a high kick by De Santis. Low kick from both clash. Shields flashing the left jab. De Santis misses another low kick. Shields lands a right hand but misses follow-up shots. De Santis trying to keep range in mind and avoid Shields’s punches. De Santis clinches up as Shields fires off a couple of more shots. The two move toward the fence and battle in the clinch. Shields lands a left hand as De Santis tries to side step. De Santis scores a takedown.


De Santis tries to work from the top, as Shields appears to be staying patient and play defense on the bottom. De Santis tries to push Shields against the PFL SmartCage. De Santis tries to posture up, and De Santis gets into mount. De Santis lands a couple of right hands. De Santis looks for an armbar in the closing seconds of the round! Shields tries to shove the feet of De Santis off, while De Santis tries to sink it in further. The bell, however, rings to end the round.




Round 2


Front kick by De Santis. Shields fires off a combination as she tries to walk De Santis down and pressure her. De Santis looks for another takedown, but Shields sprawls and avoids it. Another combination from Shields. Body shot and a hook from Shields. Right hand from Shields. High kick from De Santis, and Shields answers with more strikes. A right hand from Shields, and De Santis locks up the body. Shields gets out of it, however, and narrowly misses the right. A couple of more right hands come from Shields as De Santis backs away. Uppercut to the body by Shields.



A low kick from De Santis, but Shields continues to deliver. Shields lands powerful right hands with De Santis against the fence. De Santis shoots in and gets the takedown. Shields gets back to the feet though. Shields separates and fires another one-two. De Santis tries for the body lock again and pins Shields against the PFL SmartCage. Shields reverses the position with about a minute left. Shields lands a couple of knees. The two dirty box while jockeying for position against the fence. Shields got to De Santis’s back, but De Santis quickly gets out of it. Shields with a late flurry that’s connecting. Shields lands another small flurry before the bell.



Round 3


Slow start from both women. Low kick from Shields misses. Shields lands inside. Weak kick attempt from De Santis. Shields pressures De Santis. Shields fires off a couple of powerful right hands. Another combination from Shields lands, and she follows that up with a damaging flurry! De Santis staying near the SmartCage. De Santis shoots and gets a takedown after some struggle. Shields, however, gets back to the feet. De Santis keeping a hold of Shields’s hips and she brings Shields back to the ground.


De Santis gets into mount. De Santis keeping pressure, and she thinks about the armbar but abandons those plans. De Santis firing off shots from up top, but they don’t appear to be doing as much damage. De Santis appears to be tired from the damage taken over the last round-and-a-half. De Santis looks for a choke from the mount. De Santis continues trying for some ground-and-pound, still in the mount. De Santis continues to land until the final bell.






Claressa Shields defeats Kelsey De Santis by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)