Claressa Shields is excited for a few things heading into her Jan. 10 fight with Ivana Habazin: make boxing history, finally have a new “next fight” and help create an additional surge in women’s boxing.
Shields, the undisputed middleweight champion, will face Habazin for the vacant WBC and WBO 154-pound titles at Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, N.J. and will air on Showtime.
After a tumultuous 2019 campaign, which featured the fight with Habazin having to be rebooked on two different occasions, “T-Rex” is ready to kick off the new year in a big way.
“I’m super excited,” Claressa Shields told BJPENN.com. “Last year was such a setback for me and I’m ready to start 2020 with a knockout. I dislocated my knee last year, the fight got rescheduled because of the incident at the weigh-in, but now we’re here in 2020. I’ll be [headlining] the first card on Showtime in 2020 so I’m ready to ring in the new year with a bang.”
The 24-year-old Shields, in just her 10th professional fight, will have the opportunity to dethrone Vasyl Lomachenko as the fastest to capture three world titles in three different divisions.
Not only will making history add to the already laundry list of accolades for Shields — which includes being the only American boxer in history top capture gold medals in back-to-back Olympics — it will be a way to show that women fighters can create moments like their male counterparts can — maybe even more so.
“It’s just more history of showing that women can do what the men do, and they can even do it better,” Claressa Shields said. “Lomachenko holds the record with 12 fights becoming a three-division world champion. I’ll hold it within 10, and not only will I be a three-time division world champion, but I’m also undisputed, and also have two Olympic gold medals. Lomachenko is not undisputed, he has two Olympic gold medals, but I still hold the undisputed over him. It’s just showing that women are willing to take the challenges, we can do what the men do, and we’re making history. I’m gonna be on top of that history list ahead of Lomachenko, they’ll take our sport more serious and know that all the women may not be as daring as myself, but there are girls coming up who won’t be afraid of taking challenges.
“I’m really looking forward to making the history and looking forward to my next fight because this has been my next fight for way too long.”
Standing across the ring from Shields on Jan. 10 will be Habazin, the current no. 1 ranked 154-pound fighter by the WBO. The 30-year-old Habazin has won her last four fights and will compete for the first time in over a year when she avenged one of her three losses against Eva Bajic.
Shields appreciates Habazin’s recent success to climb the ranks in the 154-pound division, but there isn’t much else she has to say in a positive manner about her opponent.
“She’s just another opponent,” Shields said. “She’s not anybody special and she may have worked her way up through the ranks to fight for these belts but our skills do not compare. I’m going to walk all over her.
“Skill wise, she does a lot of covering up and, I’m sorry, but she’s soft. I have no respect for the girl, she’s just soft. The only good thing I’ll say about her is she has good hand speed but she don’t have no head movement. My skills are just way above all of the women in women’s boxing.”
In October, Shields and Habazin were scheduled to fight in Shields’ hometown of Flint, Mich. A day before the fight was supposed to take place, Habazin’s then coach James Ali Bashir was allegedly sucker punched at the weigh-ins. Shields’ brother Artis Mack was arrested and charged with assault with intent to great bodily harm less than murder. Due to the attack, the fight was cancelled.
Shields believes she has been unfairly made the villain by Habazin following the Oct. 4 incident.
“The [main] reason why she gets no respect is how she carried herself after the incident [at the weigh-ins in October],” Shields said. “She started playing the victim, trying to call me a thug, like I had anything to do with the incident. She wasn’t being a sports-like person, not understanding that we both trained hard to make that fight happen. The incident didn’t just affect her, it affected me also. She went on this little race rant, I’m a thug, I’m a gangster. I ain’t never been to jail. It made me not like her as a person and when I don’t like them as a person, I go out to put the beatdown on them worse.”
The attack on Bashir left a negative memory for Habazin, and also left Shields in a state of disbelief. After recovering from a knee injury over the summer, Shields was ready for her moment in front of her home crowd. When the opportunity to have that moment in Flint, along with her chance at history was taken away, it stuck with Shields for a bit of time.
“It took a while to get over it because I’m a person who believes in perfection, especially when it’s close to the fight,” Shields explained. “I think I felt like I did everything right in camp and then to have something happen that cancelled the fight and had nothing to do with me, it threw me for a loop. It almost sent me into a depressive mind state, but I made sure I went church, make sure I traveled, make sure I keep training, stay away from the internet and all the internet trolls, the people who kept coming at me 24-7. And I didnt get my check for the fight that was supposed to set me up for bigger things to come. It set my life back a few months more than it already was because I had dislocated my knee last year, got ready for October and the fight got cancelled, and now my life has been on hold for six months.
“I only fought one time last year so it was really hard but, more than anything, it was just shocking. Anytime I hear the situation come up, I can not believe that that s**t happened. I can’t believe that happened before a fight. Nothing like that has ever happened and it kind of shook me up. I don’t know what else I could’ve done to prevent it.”
In a press release announcing the Jan. 10 bout, Habazin stated that she has “been thinking about [the incident] since October” and has “more of an incentive now given what happened.” Shields believes that Habazin is already an emotional person, but using the unfortunate moment in October as a chip on her shoulder will make her an emotional fighter as well — something that could be quite detrimental according to Shields.
“She’s hella emotional,” Shields said. “She was emotional before the incident happened in Flint. At the press conference, they weren’t even speaking. They weren’t even riding in the same car to the press conference. She was calling my promoter telling him that she wasn’t getting in the car with him, she’s not getting in the car with him, she’s not speaking with him, and this was the day before the weigh-in. Whatever problem they had, and I’m glad she got a new coach, she’s gonna come in very emotional. She can have a chip on her shoulder but any girl who comes in to fight me, they better be on their A-game anyway. I’m prepared for whatever she brings and she’ll be out of there before the sixth round, for sure.”
In her last fight, Claressa Shields defeated previously unbeaten Christina Hammer via unanimous decision to become the undisputed middleweight champion in her fight of 2019 after a 4-0 2018 campaign.
While extra emotion and anger is a natural reaction to a scene like what happened in October, Shields believes Habazin has taken it to a new level of disrespect. It would be easy to make the fight personal, but some of the things Habazin has said about Shields leading into the Jan. 10 bout is something the undisputed middleweight champion won’t soon forget.
“I don’t really take things as personal, I take them as disrespectful,” Claressa Shields said. “She was saying that me and my family were thugs, and there won’t be any thugs there to protect me inside the ring when all I did was show her respect. I did some trash talking but I was never disrespectful to her. She took things to a personal level. As her coach is calling my sisters bitches, saying ‘she’s a monkey’, and all of this other stuff, my mom was sitting right there. So you’re disrespecting my mom, my dad, my cousins, my whole family and anybody who was there that has love for me and she’s calling me a thug? She has the nerve to call me a thug? No! As I hated that the stuff that happened to her coach happened, her coach was a thug — a complete thug. He should’ve been removed. If he had been removed when he was saying those things to my sister, the situation would’ve never happened.
“She’s saying this all happened because of me. Why? Because I wanted to check my weight before the actual weigh-in for a weight class I hadn’t fought at since I was 16 years old? Why should I continue to be respectful when she’s being totally disrespectful to me. Not only am I a world champion, I’m a two-time Olympic gold medalist — the only boxer from America to accomplish this. I built myself up from the bottom to now. The only thing I’ve done is love boxing, and to have her try to destroy my character and everything I worked so hard far, it was all because of her coach. And now I’m a thug, and she flipped the script saying things like I tried to get out of the fight, I’m scared of her, I wasn’t on weight, that really pissed me off. I’ve been using my anger for a long time to fuel me and I was using my anger just to get the belts. Now the anger is, one, you disrespected me. You disrespected my family, you’re lying on me, she’s gonna get beat up worse than Hammer did. Way worse.”
Following her chance at history, Claressa Shields told BJPENN.com that she plans on making the transition to MMA, which includes training with UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. As exciting as that is for Shields, making history on Jan. 10 is the top priority. For Shields, it’s not just about the new records and accolades, it’s about helping to promote women’s boxing and, hopefully, someday, headline an all-female event.
“I think it will show that we have a lot of fans when we all come together,” Claressa Shields said. “We still need to be built as individuals but I would love to have an all-female card. That would be great.
“I think it would show how many views we would get all coming together. It would be millions because we all have our separate fans. Some of my fans would learn about Katie Taylor, some of her fans would learn about Amanda Serrano, some of their fans would learn about me and it would give us all that boost together. Throughout the year, every fight card, from PBC to FOX, Showtime to ShoBox, ESPN to DAZN, every event should have a women’s fight on the card. It don’t have to be a big name like myself, I feel like I’m the tier-one, but I feel like other women need to be showcased and built up. The broadcasts can say, ‘women’s boxing is on fire, tonight we have for the TV opener this person vs. this person.’
“I think that’s something that Christy Martin’s team did very well was put her on the undercards with Mike Tyson,” Shields continued. “No one would know who Christy Martin was if she wasn’t on the undercards with Mike Tyson. That’s how she built herself up and that’s how people learned about her. We need to voice that more. Women’s boxing needs to be showcased throughout the year.”
How do you think Claressa Shields will do when she makes the transition to Mixed Martial Arts?