The time for fighting words is over now. And Friday night in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the bell will finally ring, as Flint’s Claressa Shields squares off against Ivana Habazin for the vacant WBO and WBC junior middleweight boxing titles in a championship bout that was delayed last fall amid controversy.
This fight originally was scheduled for October in Shields’ hometown. But that event was called off after the weigh-in at the Dort Federal Events Center, as Habazin's 68-year-old trainer, James Ali Bashir, got into a verbal altercation with Shields’ sister and then was assaulted, allegedly by Shields’ brother, Artis Mack.
Habazin suffered facial fractures that required emergency surgery at Henry Ford Hospital, while Mack, a parolee who’d served seven years in prison for arson and weapons offenses, was later arrested on a felony assault charge.
Shields, for her part, has made it clear her brother wasn’t part of her fight team or entourage, something she reiterated this week at a news conference previewing Friday’s rescheduled bout — the main event of a Showtime-televised card at the Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City.
“After everything happened in Flint I had a conversation with (Showtime Sports president) Stephen Espinoza and he just told me to stay focused,” said Shields, the two-time Olympic gold medalist who turned pro three years ago. “Everyone who was in Flint and knows about the incident that happened, knows it’s not something I have a history of doing. I don’t do stuff outside the ring.”
In the ring, the 24-year-old Shields is guaranteeing she’ll make short work of Habazin, who’ll have a different trainer in her corner Friday as Bashir continues to recover from his injuries.
“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.”
Habazin, a 30-year-old Croatian boxer, is 20-3 in her career with seven knockouts. And the former world welterweight champ hasn’t been shy about calling Shields out.
“Claressa Shields is not the ‘greatest woman of all time’ but she is the greatest bully of all time,” Habazin said Tuesday. “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, who is dropping down in weight to fight Habazin, checked in at 153½ pounds Thursday, answering any doubts about that. And a win of any kind Saturday — knockout or not — would make Shields the first triple-division champion in women’s boxing history and the fastest to do it in either the men’s or women’s ranks. Ukranian star Vasiliy Lomachenko holds the current record, winning his third division title in just 12 fights back in 2018. Shields (9-0-0, 2 KOs) will be trying to do it in only her 10th pro bout.
“Ivana doesn’t stand a chance,” Shields said. “I’m sorry, I’m just going to keep it real. … 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.”
Shields vs. Habazin
What: Claressa Shields vs. Ivana Habazin for vacant WBC and WBO 154-pound titles.
When: Friday, card begins at 9 p.m.
Where: Ocean Casino Resort, Atlantic City, N.J.
Records: Shields 9-0 (2 KO), Habazin 20-3 (7 KO)