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(CNN) --

Undefeated boxing champion Claressa Shields made history in another sport this Saturday, in her return to mixed martial arts (MMA).

The 28-year-old earned a split decision victory over Kelsey De Santis in what was the first professional women's MMA fight held in Saudi Arabia.

“I feared a very tough camp,” the American said later, her voice breaking.

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"What I'm trying to do is not easy and I've been very respectful of this sport. I've worked hard, I'm going to go back to the gym and work harder. I almost broke my arm on the arm bar. I had to fight to get out of there .

With her victory, Shields improved to 2-1 as a professional MMA fighter to complement her 14-0 boxing record as she competed in her first professional MMA fight since suffering a rare loss against Abigail Montes in October. of 2021.

“There were days at camp when I was literally crying.

“I wasn’t considering going back to the gym because it was so hard, but I forced myself to go back and that’s how I got the win tonight.”

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With her victory, Shields improved to a 2-1 record as a professional MMA fighter to complement her 14-0 boxing record, while competing in her first professional MMA fight since suffering a rare loss against Abigail Montes in October 2021.

Shields throws a punch at DeSantis during the fight.

(Photo: Cooper Neill/Getty Images).

It was a close fight, with Shields overcoming a brutal submission attempt by De Santis in the first round when she found herself trapped in an armbar.

She survived after getting out of trouble, recovering and taking the victory.

Female MMA fighters are increasingly visible in Saudi Arabia, as the ultra-conservative kingdom has in recent years relaxed some of the strict restrictions still imposed on women living there.

In January, Hattan Alsaif made history by becoming the first Saudi woman to join a global MMA promotion.

But Saudi Arabia's extravagant spending on various sports, from backing the breakaway LIV Golf tour to landing soccer superstars for the Saudi Pro League, has attracted critics who call it sportswashing to distract from the country's human rights record. country.

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman previously said he "doesn't care" about the country's investment in sport being described as sportswashing.

"Well, if sportswashing is going to increase my GDP by one percent, then I'll keep doing it," bin Salman said in an interview with Fox News that aired in September 2023.

Shields and De Santis were fighting on the undercard of the PFL vs Bellator event, promoted by Bellator MMA and the Professional Fighters League.

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