Marshall stops Vargas in electric MMA debut

Savannah Marshall celebrates beating Mirela Vargas
Marshall has a 14-1 record in professional boxing [Getty Images]

Savannah Marshall stopped Mirela Vargas in the first round of an electric MMA debut in front of her home fans at PFL Europe in Newcastle.

The 33-year-old undisputed super-middleweight boxing champion was taken down multiple times but rose to overwhelm her Brazilian opponent with an onslaught of punches at the Utilita Arena.

Following the bout, Marshall was joined by long-term boxing adversary Claressa Shields in the cage, with the pair set to continue their rivalry in the PFL.

"Thank god I can punch. I've only been doing this nine months, but I've loved it," said Marshall.

"Now, where’s my pal Claressa?"

Marshall has made no secret of her desire to fight Shields under MMA rules, with the Hartlepool native revealing a big factor behind her move to the PFL was to pursue a fight with the 29-year-old American.

Shields, who avenged her defeat at amateur level to beat Marshall in 2022 and become boxing’s undisputed middleweight world champion, made her PFL debut in 2021 and has won two of her three fights in the organisation.

Marshall started MMA training nine months ago, citing a lack of challenges in boxing, and her appearance on the big screens early in the night at the Utilita Arena brought big cheers from fans.

Marshall had been training with UFC interim heavyweight champion Tom Aspinall in preparation for her MMA bow, and cameras showed the Manchester fighter giving her some final words of encouragement as she wrapped her gloves.

Walking out in a Newcastle United shirt, Marshall looked focused before entering and side-stepped around the cage to a rousing ovation.

The round provided non-stop action from the bell as Marshall's straight right hand stung the 26-year-old Vargas, before the home favourite was wobbled by a leg kick.

Marshall was then taken down by Vargas in the first grappling exchange of the fight.

Pundits had cited grappling as being the potential downfall of Marshall following her transition to MMA, but under the tutelage of Aspinall and his father Andy - who were in her corner - she showcased the work she has done in jiu-jitsu by getting back to her feet.

With the crowd now also standing and in full voice, Marshall began her barrage of punches, rocking Vargas with straight left after straight right, but the Brazilian would secure another takedown with a desperate dive at the debutant's feet.

Marshall looked in trouble briefly as Vargas attempted an arm triangle submission, but as the crowd drew in breath, she showed excellent defensive skills once more to get back to her feet.

For the second time, Marshall then unloaded with piston-like strikes, forcing Vargas to cover up with little offence, and with the stats showing a 31-4 punch advantage, the referee stopped the contest.

"These MMA fighters, you’ve got to be a little bit crazy to do this," said Marshall.

"I've loved it, fight week, the training, the MMA community has welcomed me with open arms. It’s a tough sport and I take my hat off to any one who does it

"Mirela is a good opponent, kickboxing world champion, fair play to her for coming over. There's only three rounds, boxing you can take your time, but here they're on you from the first bell."

Marshall then shared a moment of respect with Shields, as the smiling pair fist-bumped and agreed to fight under MMA rules in the PFL at a later date.

But when asked if Marshall would be a regular in the PFL cage, she hinted that a return to boxing might be imminent if promotor Ben Shalom makes the right offer.

"I don't know. Ben Shalom's here, I told him you're going to have to get your purse out now, get the cheque-book out," added Marshall.

Elsewhere on the card there were impressive wins for Britain's Jack Grant, who back-suplexed Charlie Leary before ending the contest with ground strikes, and compatriot Shanelle Dyer, who knocked out Mariam Torchinava with a spectacular head kick.

The PFL also announced British former UFC fighter Marc Diakiese has signed a contract with the organisation.

The 31-year-old won eight of his 15 fights across seven years in the promotion and is set to make his PFL debut later this year.