Shields’ HERstory, Likely to Be Drama-Free

Claressa Shields
Claressa Shields in Detroit in 2017 at the final press conference before headlining her first Showtime card. Photo credit: Stephanie Trapp
Claressa Shields, the GWOAT, aims to become the fastest fighter to win titles in three divisions Friday on Showtime in Atlantic City
Claressa Shields awaiting “and the new” to become undisputed Middleweight champion after defeating Christina Hammer last April in Atlantic City. Photo credit: Stephanie Trapp/Showtime

The only thing standing between Claressa Shields and making more history this Friday evening is 30-year-old Croatian Ivana Habazin. Habazin (20-3, 7 KOs) won the IBF Welterweight title back in March 2013. On Friday, she has the chance to win the vacant WBC and WBO Super Welterweight titles. Habazin can make her own history.

I’d like to reassure you that if you tune in on Friday, you’ll be in store for a war. That would be disingenuous. On Shields’ way to becoming the undisputed Middleweight champion, she dropped just two rounds to both Christina Hammer and Hanna Gabriels. She won all 10 rounds against Hannah Rankin to claim the vacant IBF title. Those women had a combined record of 47-3-1. Hammer had been a unified champion, and Gabriels was a unified 154-pound champion.

Habazin’s last five opponents’ combined record is 27-27-2. Two opponents were winless. Truth be told, Habazin’s not even a top 15 Super Welterweights in the world according to the WBC.

More truth. Unless Habazin truly shocks the world Friday night, we’ll probably never hear from her again. But all of these things aren’t Shields’ fault. Shields (9-0, 2 KOs) will show up to the Ocean Resort Casino and likely do something great. She will earn a world title in her third division in just her 10th fight. Vasiliy Lomachenko and Kosei Tanaka both did it in 12 fights.

I’m not complaining, I often note the duplicity involved in boxing matches, recognizing that they are also promotions. I just watched Canelo Alvarez face Rocky Fielding and former Light Heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev on an unusually short turnaround.

Once the Bell Rings

Hopefully, on Friday night, Habazin bites down and shoots her shot. Due to two postponements leading up to this fight, both fighters have been in camp for several months. She needs to avoid straightforward boxing early. Habazin is an inch taller and moves fairly well. Maybe it’s a tough ask, but she has to either get Shields’ respect or be unpredictable.

Gabriels scored a knockdown against Shields in the first round of their June 2018 bout. Habazin doesn’t move like the Costa Rican but she can decide to set up inside, and keep her shots short. Then adjust from there – move outside if Shields is superior at that range.

Habazin may have to try different looks. Shields has never fought at this weight and said she’s been training for five months. She could look to pressure Shields to test the Flint, Michigan native’s comfort with her new looking frame. Shields also talked about the absence of meat from her diet for over three months. None of this will be easy for Habazin, but it’s what she signed up for. She skipped to the head of the line in front of top-ranked fighters like Maricela Cornejo, Mikaela Lauren (defeated Habazin by TKO in April 2016), and sparring partner Raquel Miller. Gabriels, the WBA champion, was vocal about a rematch on neutral ground, after disagreeing with the wide margins in her loss against Shields.

Claressa Shields working through her stiffest challenge in Costa Rica’s Hanna Gabriels in Detroit in June 2018. Photo credit: Stephanie Trapp/Showtime

The Wrong Side of History

Ultimately, I expect Shields to get her hand raised. And likely in spectacular fashion. The 24-year old two-time Olympic gold medalist exuded her usual confidence in a comment made while still in camp in Miami, “I’m going to knock her out.”

I’m going to put down a whole different beat down on her because of the level of disrespect she has shown me. I’m not going to let her be disrespectful towards me and I’m going to knock her out to shut her up.

Shields was also complimentary of new Lightweight champion Gervonta Davis’ performance to close 2019. Davis moved up to the 135-pound limit on December 28 but weighed 136.2 pounds for his initial weigh-in. Hopefully, the scale isn’t where we get our drama concerning Shields’ bid for the pair of vacant 154-pound titles.

An altercation ahead of the weigh-in for the planned fight in October preempted either woman from stepping on the scale. So until Thursday, Shields vs Habazin does involve some suspense.

The Future Outlook for Shields

Shields recently accepted an invite to UFC 245 from Dana White to observe Amanda Nunes defend her bantamweight title. Nunes could pop up in New Jersey. A full 20 pounds separates the two women – and Nunes MMA experience. Alicia Napoleon Espinosa and Elin Cederroos face each other Friday on the undercard to unify their WBA and IBF Super Middleweight titles. Espinosa could be targeted for a future bout if Shields elects not to remain below 160-pounds.

Part of Shields’ problem regarding future work is the field is shallow at and above Middleweight. At the recent 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials, Colorado’s Naomi Graham emerged as the 165-pound champion, and Ohio’s O’Shae Jones won the top spot at 152-pounds. Before either even become a blip on Shields’ radar, both women can compete for their own gold if they complete the road to Tokyo 2020.

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