The Professional Fighters League continues to rack up an eye-watering array of combat sports talent. Two-weight boxing world champion Savannah Marshall is the latest to enter the SmartCage, having signed a multi-year deal with the PFL. Marshall joins former UFC Heavyweight Champion Francis Ngannou, social media superstar Jake Paul and boxing legend Amanda Serrano among the group’s star attractions. Intriguingly, ‘The Silent Assassin’ will also line up next to bitter boxing rival Claressa Shields.
Boxing appears to have cottoned onto what MMA realised a little while back. Namely, the fact fans are intrigued to see fighters from other combat sports try new disciplines. The crossover of sports has come a long way from the one-sided rout James ‘Lights Out’ Toney suffered at the hands of Randy Couture in 2010.
It is the stars of women’s boxing who have done the most to make headway in the martial arts world. Serrano boasts a 2-0-1 record in the cage while Shields has gone 1-1 so far. Heather Hardy, who recently dropped a boxing decision to Serrano, is 2-2 in rival organisation Bellator MMA. The gold standard in this realm is Holly Holm. ‘The Preacher’s Daughter’ is the only fighter in history to hold world titles in boxing and the UFC. A true one-off, as well as holding a 15-7 record in MMA and a 33-2-3 boxing ledger, Holm also boasts a 22-1-7 kickboxing legacy.
Holly Holms don’t come around every day. But it is these sort of figures who Marshall can look to for inspiration as she sets foot into the SmartCage. This new challenge has arrived at an interesting time in Savannah’s career.
She has just won the undisputed super middleweight championship. If her transition to MMA had come before that win over Franchon Crews-Dezurn, it might have been seen as a serious career shift. Marshall had just lost to Shields in her historic O2 Arena headliner for the undisputed middleweight. At that precarious stage, having tasted her first professional defeat, a change of scenery my have been viewed as permanent.
But with world title belts back on her mantle, Marshall’s MMA adventure feels more like a liberation than a retreat. The freedom that the PFL offers in allowing fighters to box alongside their martial arts commitments allows Marshall free rein. It is this freedom that was so crucial to Ngannou’s signing. ‘The Predator’ boxes WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury in October in a non-title bout.
Marshall will likely want to test herself against some of the best fighters in the new PFLW arm of the company, a female-first initiative she is helping to launch. But the company is hinting heavily towards a familiar foe for the Hartlepool superstar. Marshall is open to the idea. Speaking to Sky Sports, the 32-year-old said, “ "I'm not stupid and I can see why they were interested in me, from the response that me and Claressa got in the ring. So that's definitely on the cards.”
It’s a fascinating fight and a much-craved opportunity for Marshall to get revenge. The Brit was the only fighter to defeat Shields as an amateur boxer but was defeated in the pros. It feels strangely appropriate that a third meeting between the two would take place in a new discipline once more. Given their status as two of the best boxers on the planet, it is to be hoped they will meet in the squared circle again at some stage. But a PFL bout adds an enticing wrinkle in one of combat sport’s most enduring modern rivalries. It would be fascinating to see how an MMA victory for either fighter would colour their ongoing feud.
Marshall will surely not be the last boxer to swap the padded gloves for the fingerless variety. Combat sports are more homogenous than ever. One hopes these bouts are a fun attraction for fans and don’t detract from the athlete’s endeavours in their native sports. As long as the big fights are being made in MMA and boxing, everyone can benefit. Marshall vs Shields in MMA? Yes, please. Just make sure that, whatever the outcome, they have a boxing rematch too.
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