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What's next for Marshall after electric MMA debut?

Savannah Marshall wrote a new chapter into her storied career when she stopped Mirela Vargas in an electric MMA debut at PFL Europe in Newcastle last week.

In a pulsating first round, Britain's Marshall - a world champion at super-middleweight in boxing - stopped the Brazilian with an onslaught of punches after escaping a nail-biting arm triangle attempt on the ground.

The 33-year-old Hartlepool native was then joined in the cage by long-term boxing rival and fellow PFL star, Claressa Shields.

Marshall's performance and her confrontation with American Shields left a burning question on everyone's lips who witnessed the spectacle at the Utilita Arena - what's next?

An MMA fight with Shields?

Marshall and Shields are engaged in one of boxing's greatest rivalries with the Briton winning at amateur level and the American avenging the defeat - the only one of her career - in 2022.

Marshall said a big reason behind her move to the PFL was to chase a third fight with Shields after her rival made her MMA debut in 2021, with "boxing politics" preventing a trilogy fight happening in the ring.

After Marshall defeated Vargas, television cameras showed Shields smiling and applauding at ringside, before the pair shared words and a respectful fist bump in the cage.

"I just said to her 'are we going to get it on in here or what?' And she said 'hmm yeah'," Marshall told BBC Sport Teesside.

"I hope so, but it was a shady yeah. We’ll have to see.”

Shields, meanwhile, said the pair will fight under MMA rules, but she's unsure when it will be.

Undisputed middleweight champion Shields is set to face Vanessa Lepage-Joanisse for the unified light-heavyweight championship on 27 July.

"As of right now I’m the better MMA fighter and it still stands that Savannah just punches harder," said Shields.

"But I have strong points she doesn’t have and she has weaknesses that I can take advantage of right now. So the fight’s going to happen – I just don’t know when."

An MMA fight with another opponent?

Marshall's elite boxing is what made the difference in her win over Vargas, but she also showcased elements of grappling she has learned in her nine months training MMA.

She was taken down multiple times but was able to get back to her feet, and utilised her jiu-jitsu skills to escape a tight submission attempt.

British UFC interim heavyweight champion Tom Aspinall, who Marshall had been training with in preparation for her MMA bow, would like to see her fight another opponent to fine-tune her skills before taking on Shields.

"The thing is, her and Claressa, they’re going to have a boxing match with MMA gloves on aren’t they?" Aspinall told the PFL.

"And that’s really exciting but my opinion – and I’m obviously not Savannah’s coach or manager or anything like that, I’m just a friend – but I think one more fight would be better.

"Just to get the feel of the cage - no shoes on, little gloves, punches, kicks coming towards you, she needs to get used to it all. So I think one more before a big one with Shields.”

A return to boxing?

Marshall has said a lack of challenges in boxing is another reason she started MMA, with a third fight with Shields failing to materialise.

She last boxed in July 2023, beating Franchon Crews-Dezurn for the undisputed super middleweight championship.

With Marshall's stock rising further after stopping Vargas, she hinted a return to the ring could be on the cards if promotor Ben Shalom made her the right offer.

"Look, I think the big one for her has always been Claressa. Whether that’s MMA next or boxing I’m not sure, we’ll speak," Shalom said.

"But I always wanted to see the rematch at 168 pounds, over three-minute rounds where she has more time to break her down, more time to find the gaps and possibly knock her out.

"Twelve three-minute rounds would be fantastic, or 10 at least, and I’d fancy Savannah's chances at a bigger weight."