CLARESSA SHIELDS has already made plenty of history, but America’s double Olympic gold medallist is hungry for more. On Saturday (October 5) at the Dort Federal Event Center in her hometown of Flint, Michigan the woman known as “T-Rex” fights Croatia’s Ivana Habazin for the vacant WBO super-welterweight title. Showtime televise in the USA and BoxNation in the UK.
The tagline is that Shields will be going for a pro world title in her third weight class, having already reigned at super-middle, then middleweight. And this will be only her 10th paid fight, whereas the brilliant Vasyl Lomachenko took all of 12 bouts to become a three-weight king in the men’s game.
“Having the opportunity to become world champion in a third weight division faster than any man or woman in boxing history will make this a night I will cherish forever,” said Shields.
“It’s another big step in history, and a giant step forward in lifting women’s boxing on the road to equality.”
Many will feel Lomachenko’s achievement is greater because men’s boxing is tougher, but what we should all agree on is that Shields is a top boxer. The problem for the women’s sports is that a much shallower talent pool forces its leading lights to move around the weight divisions in search of challenges.
Thus it is that Shields first became world champ, at 168lbs, in only her fourth paid outing. Two fights later she moved down to 160lbs to win a belt and when she beat Christina Hammer to unify the middleweight titles in April there was nothing left at that weight.
So now she trims down again, to 154lbs, and her quest to shed the pounds will be helped by the fight’s postponement from its original date of August 17 (Shields had an injury). The boxer insists she can make the weight and be strong at it – and at 5ft 8ins she isn’t huge.
And it’s unlikely that Habazin will be good enough to push her so hard she will have to dig into her last reserves of strrengh.
The Zagreb resident has a respectable-looking record but she’s never boxed outside Europe and has lost her biggest fights.
In 2013 Eva Bajic outpointed her for the vacant WBF welter title and the following year the outstanding Norwegian Cecilia Braekhus outscored her for four belts at 147lbs. Finally, a 2016 challenge to Sweden’s Mikaela Lauren for the WBC super-welter belt brought a third-round stoppage defeat (the only one of her career).
She’s won her last five, including a revenge win over Bajic and two victories for the lightly-regarded IBO middleweight belt. But Shields represents a huge step up.
Habazin has been training in Colombia and Detroit, sparring former world champs in Chris Namus and Kali Reis.
Said Habazin. “I’ve been training for this fight since June and the postponement has only given me more time to get ready.
“I’m a more complete boxer than before. With James Ali Bashir as my coach I have learned some new stuff. I’m ready to show that I can punch – the difference before was I wasn’t finishing people. Now it’s a different story.
“I really feel strong and I think I have power to knock people out. This is my goal, I don’t believe in the scorecards.”
Fighting words, but as Habazin couldn’t stop either Borislava Goranova or Galina Gyumliyska, two regular visitors (and losers) in British rings, it’s unlikely she hits hard enough to dent Shields.
Expect the American to make tell her superior skills as she grinds down Habazin for a stoppage near the end of the 10 two-minute rounds.
One to watch on the undercard is Philadelphia welterweight prospect Jaron “Boots” Ennis, who meets Argentina’s Demian Daniel Fernandez over 10 rounds.
Ennis, 22, has won all 23 fights with only two opponents taking him the distance (the last 13 fights ago). He hasn’t met any big names yet, but is beginning to step up. Fernandez, 30, won’t upset the applecart. He’s four inches shorter at 5ft 6ins and the lone loss against 12 wins (five early) was an early-career one-rounder, so expect Ennis to add another quick win to his ledger.