Delayed three months by an ugly assault that still looms over the fight, Claressa Shields will finally get her chance at continuing her pursuit of history on Friday.
A two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist, Shields (9-0, 2 KOs) will look to eclipse Vasiliy Lomachenko as the fastest fighter to win titles in three divisions as a pro when she faces Ivana Habazin for the vacant WBC and WBO junior middleweight titles at Ocean Resort Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET).
Shields, 24, saw her original date to face Habazin (20-3, 7 KOs) on Oct. 5 get postponed when trash talking between the two teams escalated following the weigh-in in Shields’ hometown of Flint, Michigan.
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Artis Mack, Shields’ 28-year-old older brother,, James Ali Bashir, and caused the 68-year-old to hit his head on the ground. The fallout saw Shields criticized for her behavior and initial comments regarding the melee which has resulted in continued bad blood between fighters.
“I want to say that Claressa Shields is not the greatest woman of all time but she is the greatest bully of all time,” Habazin said at Wednesday’s final press conference. “She can say whatever she wants, but you know what, talk is cheap, and on Friday night she ain’t going to do anything, because I’m going to knock her out.”
Shields captured a super middleweight title in just her fourth pro bout and went on to unify titles before moving down to middleweight. Last April, she became the first female undisputed champion at 160 pounds by handing Christina Hammer her first defeat by dominant decision.
The need to back up her bold claim of already being the G.W.O.A.T. (greatest woman boxer of all time) saw Shields continue her move down the scale in her debut Friday at 154 pounds. She enters as an overwhelming betting favorite against the smaller Habazin, a 30-year-old native of Croatia who lost a 2014 title bout to undisputed welterweight champion Cecilia Braekhus.
“It wasn’t difficult [to make weight]. In Flint, I was 154 [pounds]. Now I’m 153.4,” Shields said. “I could go down to 147 if I wanted to. I don’t fight off emotion. That’s why I’m a champion. There are plenty of girls who have done way worse things than what she’s doing trying to throw me off my square.”
Habazin has been critical of what she perceives is a lack of punching power in Shields, pointing to the fact that “T-Rex” has just two stoppage wins in nine pro fights.
“She can talk saying she’s going to knock me out. Whatever,” Habazin said. “She doesn’t have that power and she will not knock me out. I have good defense and I know I have power so I’m going to knock her out.”
Some have pointed to the fact that women’s boxing has two-minute rounds as why Shields has been unable to finish fighters she has had hurt. Regardless of the reason, Shields believes a move down in weight will only increase the impact of her power.
“I’m once in a century kind of athlete. I guarantee it’s going to be over before six rounds,” Shields said. “And I say six because I’m punching different. I’m stronger at 154. I’m faster.
“Once the fight is over, she’s going to be a blast from the past. They won’t be talking about the incident in Flint. They may remember it, but her? They won’t even remember her name after I beat her down on Friday.”
Along with aggressive pursuit to be known as the best female boxer in history, Shields has also publicly flirted with the idea of training MMA and has publicly called out two-division UFC champion Amanda Nunes in hopes of drawing up interest in a crossover fight.
“I just try to keep carrying women’s boxing the best way that I can,” Shields said. “I’m regarded as a top 10 fighter in boxing already with only nine fights. When you have that kind of pressure you have to go out and not be average. Skill wise, there’s not a woman that can compare to me. I can do everything. I can box, I can brawl, I can stand in front of you toe-to-toe.
“When I win this fight I’m just going to get a little bit louder with ‘She’s the G.W.O.A.T., greatest woman of all time.’ Put it there. I claim it.”
In the co-main event, a rising prospect at 147 pounds gets his chance to shine as Jaron Ennis takes on Bakhtiyar Eyubov in a welterweight showdown. The 22 year old has already amassed an impressive 24-0 record with 22 knockouts. He’s hoping to add Eyubov to that list, who is coming off his first professional loss in his last bout.
Fight card, odds
Claressa Shields (c) -10000
Ivana Habazin +1400
Women’s middleweight titles
Jaron Ennis -3000
Bakhtiyar Eyubov +1000
|Alicia Napoleon-Espinos (c) -500||Elin Cederoos (c) +300||Women’s super middleweight titles|
Shields has regularly overwhelmed opponents with her advantages in speed, athleticism and punching volume. This fight should be no different, which is why Shields has been installed as high as a -10000 (yes, for real).
The only real drama should come in the form of seeing whether Shields has the same energy at the new weight class and whether her power increases against smaller opponents. While there’s no question Habazin has enough motivation to produce the fight of her life, she’s severely outgunned.
Pick: Shields via TKO7