“THIS is why we don’t do any events in Flint,” said a police officer shortly after boxing coach James Ali Bashir had been punched and left unconscious by a member of Claressa Shields’ family inside Flint’s Dort Federal Event Center. “Because this is what happens.”
Shields, a world champion born and raised in Flint, Michigan, had been looking forward to her first professional fight in her hometown on Saturday (October 5) against Croatia’s Ivana Habazin. The WBO and WBC light-middleweight titles were on the line, giving her the chance to conquer a third weight class, and everything was set up for the two-time Olympic champion to impress her supporters, friends and family.
But then, at the weigh-in on the Friday (October 4), this same support network let her down and the fight was cancelled.
“Claressa got on the scales to check her weight and Bashir Ali [Habazin’s trainer] came over to have a look,” recalled Richard Farnan who was there as a member of Hannah Rankin’s team, a former Shields opponent who was in Flint to compete on her undercard.
“Now, every time I’ve been with an opponent for Claressa, her sister has got involved and got aggressive, threatening and nasty. She was racially abusive to us when we were in Kansas and she nearly started a fight with someone who was with us as we were doing the ring walk. I literally had to pull them apart. She’s just trouble.
“This time, she has come over to look at the scales. I don’t know what she said but it was obviously abusive, and she obviously didn’t want Bashir anywhere near the scales. He then reacted to her and put his hand out. It wasn’t to hit her. It wasn’t even close to her face. But he was just telling her to go away.
“She carried on, as she does, while Claressa isn’t saying or doing anything. She’s just on the scales. You can see on her face that she’s wondering what the hell is happening.
“Bashir gets escorted away, they’re still shouting at each other, and then Claressa’s best friend grabs her sister and moves her to the other side of the building. But that didn’t really suppress anything because the security guard let Bashir go.
“Then, as Bashir’s coming back, he starts shouting out, ‘Get your monkey ass out of here!’ Straight away, we’re thinking, He may be black, but he can’t say that. He then called her a ‘monkey-ass b***h’ and I looked at Noel [Callan, Rankin’s coach] and we both thought this could cause a problem. You just can’t say that and expect to get away with it.
“He sits back down and then says, ‘I don’t care that she’s a b***h. That f**king d**e is going to get knocked out.’ Again, you’re thinking he probably shouldn’t be saying that, either.”
Bashir, a coach since the seventies, has previously worked with Wladimir Klitschko and was Emanuel Steward’s assistant at the world-famous Kronk gym in Detroit. He has earned his stripes. He has seen all there is to see. And without wishing to condone what was to follow, he should also have known better.
“He went quiet for about five or ten minutes and seemed to have calmed down,” Farnan continued. “We’re then waiting for the weigh-in to begin and it happened right in front of me. I was looking the opposite way at the time, but I heard this whack, a grunt, and then saw Bashir fall to the floor face first and his body just skid across the floor. He got hit with some force. He was right there at my feet. I thought, What the hell just happened?
“I looked to my left and there was this short, stocky guy standing there still shouting abuse. Nobody from security reacted. When they finally did, he ran out the building and they gave chase.
“In the meantime, Ivana [Habazin] is in pieces. She’s screaming and hysterical and holding Bashir in her arms. He’s bleeding badly from the mouth and had to have facial reconstruction surgery. I believe he lost a load of teeth and broke his jaw.”
Later on that evening Farnan and Rankin worked out in a gym not far from the fight venue and were told by the owner of the gym that it was Shields’ brother, Artis Mack, who had been arrested for the assault on Bashir.
“The one thing that we all surmised was that it was lucky it was a punch,” said Farnan. “It could so easily have been a gunshot… We were looking at it and thinking, Yeah, that was lucky.
“A lot of Claressa’s supporters will say Bashir was in the wrong for the things he was saying, and they’re right, he was. But, at the same time, he didn’t deserve for that to happen. I know people are mentioning his age, but even if he was in his twenties or thirties, that shouldn’t have happened.”
In 2018, Farnan was in the opposite corner to Shields twice. He led Hanna Gabriels into battle against “T-Rex” in June and then did the same with Rankin in November. Both times his challengers came up short on the scorecards, but both times Farnan came away with a better idea of what makes Shields special and what could ultimately one day lead to her downfall – both inside and outside the ring.
“It wasn’t her fault last week,” he stressed. “However, she needs to learn to keep her family away. I know you can’t necessarily impose that, but they shouldn’t be able to go to weigh-ins because things like this are threatening to happen all the time.
“It’s not fuelled by Claressa. She’s actually dropped her attitude a little bit. Most of the trouble is caused by the sister.
“I’ve never felt unsafe anywhere but last week I genuinely felt unsafe. I don’t think they’ll try to put something on with Claressa in Flint again. It’s too dangerous.”