Boxing star Savannah Marshall talks MMA debut and PFL clash with rival Claressa Shields

Boxing star Savannah Marshall talks MMA debut and PFL clash with rival Claressa Shields

Savannah Marshall described her MMA debut as having a unique intensity after she knocked out Mirela Vargas on Saturday night.

After signing with the PFL last year, the 33-year-old has been training all facets of mixed martial arts to prepare for stepping into the cage for the first time.

To add to the weight of expectations, Marshall was entrusted with the headline spot in the PFL Europe card, walking out in front of a raucous North East crowd at the Vertu Motors Arena in Newcastle.

After the bell rung, Vargas, a former kickboxing champion in her native Brazil, wasted little time in introducing Marshall to the sheer variety of offence available in MMA, cutting her down with a chopping low kick.

Vargas immediately claimed top position and, for Marshall, months of arduous grappling training was about to be put to the test for the first time in competition.

Savannah Marshall secured a first-round KO win against Mirela Vargas in her MMA debut

Savannah Marshall secured a first-round KO win against Mirela Vargas in her MMA debut

The champion boxer main evented at PFL Europe in front of a baying North East crowd

The champion boxer main evented at PFL Europe in front of a baying North East crowd

‘It was just so quick and intense’, Marshall told Mail Sport.

‘It was like I didn’t have a chance to process what was going on. I remember when I got out the cage, I remember just thinking, “oh my god, what has just happened?” Like it was just so quick. There’s no way I can describe it.’

Rigorous preparation with UK Brazilian Jiu Jitsu pioneer Andy Aspinall, father of UFC interim heavyweight king Tom, paid off as Marshall was able to safely return to her preferred domain.

From that point onward the undisputed super middleweight champion’s pugilistic pedigree was on full display.

Marshall set her punches up in combination, slipping her opponents attempts to retort before finding a consistent home for her rear uppercut.

The fight returned to the mat on multiple occasions but Marshall appeared to grow in confidence every time she was able to work her way back up and continue her striking clinic on the feet.

As the action continued at a frenetic pace, Marshall revealed she felt well-equipped for what she was getting herself in for thanks to some prescient advice from the younger Aspinall.

Marshall admitted adjusting to the various facets of MMA proved difficult in the early going

Marshall admitted adjusting to the various facets of MMA proved difficult in the early going

But she credited advice from coach and UFC star Tom Aspinall in helping her adjust to MMA

But she credited advice from coach and UFC star Tom Aspinall in helping her adjust to MMA

Marshall managed to repeatedly get back to her feet and punish

Marshall managed to repeatedly get back to her feet and punish 

‘Tom, he’s the one who mentioned about the pace.’ Marshall continued.

‘He was the one who was saying, “Look, just be careful of the pace, because it’s a lot quicker than boxing.”‘

After scoring a stoppage with 33 seconds remaining in the opening round, Marshall was met inside the cage by her longtime rival and fellow boxer-turned fighter Claressa Shields.

The pair first met as amateurs back in 2012, with Marshall winning on points – to date the only defeat Shields has suffered, amateur or professional inside the ring.

As they blitzed the professional ranks a rematch was an inevitability, and this time it was Shields who would prevail, winning a unanimous decision in front of a capacity crowd at the O2 to become the undisputed middleweight queen in 2022.

After Marshall’s victory on Saturday the pair squared off inside the cage, with the long-awaited trilogy now set to be contested under a ruleset still somewhat foreign to both.

Marshall continued: ‘I think it’s more of a business like sense of we both know that, we’re the biggest fight out there for each other. 

‘Even though she’s got that one over over me, there’s no one really out there for either of us to fight in the ring or in the cage. 

After the fight Marshall squared off against long-time rival Claressa Shields (right) ahead of a potential clash between the pair in MMA

After the fight Marshall squared off against long-time rival Claressa Shields (right) ahead of a potential clash between the pair in MMA

Marshall inflicted the only defeat of Shields' distinguished boxing career when they met as amateurs in 2012

Marshall inflicted the only defeat of Shields’ distinguished boxing career when they met as amateurs in 2012

But the American exacted revenge over ten hard-fought rounds in their rematch a decade later

But the American exacted revenge over ten hard-fought rounds in their rematch a decade later

‘Obviously, it’s a bit different in the cage, but is she going to get a bigger fight than me? No.’

Should the long-awaited clash materialise in the PFL, Marshall was quick to insist that she will be ready to utilise all of the weapons available to her in her new discipline to defeat Shields. 

‘Look we’re both not kickboxers. We’re not grapplers. But if it’s a case of one of us was losing in the striking, I’ll just take it the floor, there’s chokes involved there’s just a different narrative.’

Whenever the two do finally meet in competition for a third time, there could hardly be a better avenue for such an intense rivalry than five five-minute rounds inside the cage. 

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