Claressa Shields is building a base, but I won't call it a “fan” base. That implies that the vast majority of people who will tune in Friday night on Showtime to see her grudge match against Ivana Habazin root for her.
What percentage do not root for the Flint, Michigan Olympics ace who guns for titles at the Ocean in Atlantic City in the 154 pound class is impossible to quantify… but suffice to say Shields (below, all pictures by Stephanie Trapp) has her share of “haters” who will watch to see if maybe Habazin can spring the upset.
And for Shields (9-0, 2 KOs; age 24) , that's a good thing.
She pushes buttons, good and bad. Some root from her, like how she came up the hard way, doesn't take no shit, and isn't afraid to tell the world of her worth.
“I’m once in a century kind of athlete,” Shields said on Tuesday at an NYC press conference to hype her scrap, which has been re-set twice, once because she was injured, and then because her brother sucker-punched Habazin's trainer Bashir Ali at the October weigh in, according to authorities.
“I guarantee it’s going to be over before six rounds. And I say six because I’m punching different. I’m stronger at 154. I’m faster.”
I said grudge match, that holds true. Yes, this fight has an extra edge to it because of that weigh in incident. Shields is that work in progress, as are we all, but she is 24, and in doing it in public, and offering up glimpses into her supposed true self on social media. Social media platforms are skewed filters which encourage hot takes and highly edited presentations of self, often times.
Many folks, those haters, didn't dig how she reacted to the weigh-in incident. She said no one from her crew were involved in the attack on Bashir, and still retained her fighting spirit as she then said she felt bad for the trainer. Indeed, to this day, Shields will tell you that Bashir was talking shit, and implies that you will pay the price if you try that with her.
Now, word on the street is that Bashir will not be at the fight, and that Steve Upsher Chambers is training and cornering Habazin for this collision.
I touched base with Shields' manager, Mark Taffet, to get a sense of the stakes of this match…and where Shields could go from here. Chatter abounds about a fight vs UFC virtuoso Amanda Nunes. “As much as she has accomplished in her first nine professional fights, winning six world titles in two weight classes, the tenth fight Friday night could actually be the beginning of an even greater era for Claressa,” Taffet said. “With a the chance to win a world title in her third weight division faster than any man or woman in history; with a likely spring fight which would pit an undisputed champ Claressa Shields against a unified champion in the Napoleon-Cederroos winner; and with her desire to begin MMA training with an eye toward being a two-sport champion, the best is yet to come for Claressa Shields.”
Bottom line, promoter Dmitriy Salita and manager Taffet are working with a talent that, OK, she might not be a once in a century talent, but one who certainly does provoke emotion, and that's a good client to work with.
Floyd Mayweather also provokes emotions, eh?
For the record, I asked Salita about some nuts and bolts issues. Namely, security. Has he reacted to the Bashir attack and put in place a strategy to insure no premature tussles take place?
“We hired officers from the Atlantic City police department to be present at the weigh in and be with both camps at all times during the weigh in and fight night,” Salita told me. “There will also be extra security at both events.”
My three cents: Extra security won't help Habazin, when she squares up, and throws telegraphed shots, too wide, from getting chewed up. Her lateral movement will save her from an early stoppage but her legs will fail, and Claressa will get her third KO before the midway point.
Check out quotes from the Tuesday presser:
NEW YORK (January 7, 2020) – Undisputed middleweight world champion Claressa Shields and former welterweight champion Ivana Habazin met face-to-face Tuesday at the final press conference three days before their long-awaited showdown for the vacant WBC and WBO 154-pound world titles this Friday, January 10 live on SHOWTIME from Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, N.J.
The press conference also featured Philadelphia’s welterweight sensation Jaron Ennis and Brooklyn-based contender Bakhtiyar Eyubov, who meet in the 10-round co-featured bout, plus Lindenhurst, N.Y. native and WBA Super Middleweight Champion Alicia Napoleon Espinosa and undefeated IBF Super Middleweight Champion Elin Cederroos, who will clash in a blockbuster unification bout to open the SHOWTIME BOXING: SPECIAL EDITION action at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT. The event is promoted by Salita Promotions in association with T-REX BOXING PROMOTIONS.
Here is what the fighters had to say Thursday from the Hotel Plaza Athénée in Manhattan:
“I’m once in a century kind of athlete. I guarantee it’s going to be over before six rounds. And I say six because I’m punching different. I’m stronger at 154. I’m faster.
“I just try to keep carrying women’s boxing the best way that I can. I’m regarded as a top 10 fighter in boxing already with only nine fights. When you have that kind of pressure you have to go out and not be average. Skill wise, there’s not a woman that can compare to me. I can do everything. I can box, I can brawl, I can stand in front of you toe-to-toe. When I win this fight I’m just going to get a little bit louder with: She’s the GWOAT, Greatest Women Of All Time. Put it there. I claim it.
“After everything happened in Flint, I had a conversation with Stephen Espinoza and he just told me to stay focused. 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.
“One of the things she said that was really disrespectful was that I didn’t make weight for October 4. Don’t believe the lies. I made 154 pounds and I’m going to be a three-division world champion come Friday. Ivana doesn’t stand a chance. I’m sorry, I’m just going to keep it real. She’s not as skilled as Christina Hammer. She worked her way up, but once a quitter, always a quitter.
“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.”
“I bet all of you are excited to see this fight. It’s finally time. First, I want to say thank you to SHOWTIME, Salita Promotions, and my team, who made this fight. I want to say that Claressa Shields is not the greatest woman of all time, but she is the greatest bully of all time. 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.
“In regards to weight, I definitely think it’s going to be an advantage for me, but I don’t worry about her weight. Whatever, this is the fight. It’s not a game, and I came here to win.
“She can say whatever she wants, but the lion doesn’t concern itself with the opinions of sheep. So, I don’t even think about her.
“I’m not worried about the judges. I know what I need to do. If I want an easy win, it’s going to be with a knockout. But I prepare myself for the knockout or for whatever I need. I am really prepared better than ever.
“I don’t think the fight is going to be easy. Of course it’s not going to be easy and I prepared for that too, but I think this is one really big show and the judges will be fair, but I will not give them a chance to make a decision.”
“I want to thank Eyubov for taking this fight because as you all know we go through a bunch of opponents every time I fight. Nobody wants to fight me. I thank him for taking this, but despite that, Friday night I’m coming to do my thing and put on a show. You all know I’m in and out like a robbery.
“I’m going to get that knockout. It’s going to come. I’m sure it’s going to come because he’s got to come to me. It’s going to come. We’re going to set it up perfect and get him up out of here.
“I’m unpredictable. You don’t know what I’m going to do. I can switch it up, I can have fun. I can do whatever I want to do to him. Friday night he’s going to see why nobody wants to fight me.
“After I do my thing on Friday night, we are most definitely looking for the top 10 or top 15, title eliminators, world titles, all of that. 2020 will be the year that I take over and the world will know about Jaron ‘Boots’ Ennis.”
“I’m very excited to be here on this SHOWTIME card. I come from a small country (Kazakhstan) and it’s really hard for me to believe that this is actually happening.
“I’m very thankful for this opportunity and will do my best on Friday. I’m grateful to fight such a skilled and tough opponent. I know he’s very strong physically and mentally, but I grew up on the streets and I’ve been around war all my life.
“I’m going to bring the toughness. I’m not a regular opponent. I come with an awkward style that will cause him problems.”
ALICIA NAPOLEON ESPINOSA
“We finally got here and it’s amazing. I’m honored to be on the card with these women and to be bringing this sport up together. We’re pioneering for women’s boxing for all the women that are with us now and the women who are ahead of us.
On claims that Napoleon-Espinosa avoided Shields in the past:
“I did not avoid [Shields] and we hashed this out before in person, not on social media. I want to get paid. I want to make decent money and make as much as the men in this sport eventually. You know when Claressa first started they weren’t offering as much as now and the money still needs to be more. Women offer just as much as the men.
“I’m looking to be challenged and to fight the best. That’s what we are here for. But I’m going to take a stand and I’m not going to say yes until the team agrees. That’s where I stand.”
“My team is something special. This is a big opportunity to be here and be on this fight card, and I just try to enjoy every moment. This is my first time in the U.S. I came from Sweden for this fight. We arrived yesterday, and this is so fun. I love it. It feels great to be here.
“This is a big dream coming true. Thank you for this opportunity. I don’t know what to say, I’m just enjoying the moment. I’m for sure going to put on a great show Friday night.
“I had my first amateur fight six years ago and had to pause for two years because of my second pregnancy. My kid Jack is turning four in February. My kids are back at home and my husband is coming tomorrow.
“I’m just feeling so strong. I feel I have this in me. The fight is just ahead and I think it will be such a great fight.”