The Claressa Shields Experiment pushes forward, and as with most all such works in progress, and efforts to break new ground, there were ups, and downs.
First off, the bottom line of it: Shields got the W Saturday night at Ocean Casino, in Atlantic City. That was expected, I dare say, because foe Ivana Habazin is at the same level as pretty much Shields foe to this point: she is a notch or two beneath the Michigan boxer in skill set.
The scrap, seen atop a three bout Showtime presentation, was promoted by Salita Promotions.
Showtime has their wagon hitched to the Shields train, and so viewers were offered a package that reflected that relationship. Coming in to the faceoff, the front and center storyline was this glaring fact: this fight had been postponed twice, once after Shields got injured, and then after Habazin’s trainer Bashir Ali got sucker punched at the weigh in, and was hospitalized.
That element was the gaseous elephant in the room, but a subject that got tip toed around on the cable-cast. It was referred to, but gingerly and ever so briefly, so the most compelling facet of Shields’ tenth pro bout was virtually ignored.
Here’s the thing: I get it. That sucker punch was a ugly deal, as Shields’ brother was arrested for the attack, which sent Ali to the hospital, and had people worried that he’d perish. He is 70 years old, so the fear was fact based.
PR wise, it’s not something Team Shields or Showtime wants to traffic in, delve deep into, how and why that incident happened…how did she deal with it, did she change her crew, did she cut loose that brother…did it change her, humble her, or not so much, because she didn’t do that deed….The people who tuned in to the show likely found themselves feeling surprised, when they realized that the whole deal wouldn’t get much play. When we saw Bashir walk to the ring with Habazin, Mauro Ranallo gave a quickie recitation of what happened…and then nothing more.
Curious…But then again, maybe not really. My guess would be that the callers were advised to not go there, if for no other reason that if there happen to be legal repercussions, if any suits are being filed by Ali, then it would be wiser to be quieter.
We hear that a lot these days, people saying, “My lawyer advised me not to comment,” and I think sometimes that is used as an excuse, an out. On Saturday, darn right I was curious about Ali’s path from being felled at the weigh in, to being present at the arena, and standing by Habazin. But that storyline didn’t make the cut on Showtime.
The fight itself featured nothing near as dramatic as the history touched on above; this happens in most all Shields fights. She is a step or two better than her foes, so there is a lack of drama in her bouts, as she wins round after round. Her power is average, so watchers aren’t treated to that climax, that serving of the pound of flesh. I’m not sure how much she can grow her power, to be frank, being that her form is pretty cemented, with all the amateur experience, but time will tell.
I wrote a column on fight week, comparing Shields to Floyd Mayweather, and the comparison fits even more now.
Floyd now and again had legal jackpots and TM-worthy incidents occurring before his fights. And to a degree or another, it was touched on, or not so much, by ESPN, by HBO, and then the Showtime crew. Those are not news organizations, they are sports and entertainment platformers, so expectations for them to be Woodward and Bernsteiny is misplaced. But I hope moving forward Showtime errs on the side of trying to show all sides of Shields’ character, and not try to shy away from the rough edges.
Shields as a character study, that is more compelling subject matter than seeing her have her way with over-matched foes.
Here is the release Showtime sent out. It touches on the TV opener, which saw Elin Cederroos impress the heck out of watchers, who saw her heavy hook hurt Alicia Napoloeon-Espinoza (below, bloody, in Stephanie Trapp picture, in a 168 pound showdown.
That fight was by far the best of the three offered, the most evenly matched, not coincidentally.
ATLANTIC CITY – January 11, 2020 – Claressa Shields made history yet again by claiming the WBC and WBO 154-pound world championships with a dominating unanimous decision over Ivana Habazin Friday on SHOWTIME from Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City.
Shields became the fastest fighter in history, male or female, to win world titles in three different weight divisions, surpassing the record of Vasiliy Lomachenko and Kosei Tanaka, who both accomplished the feat in 12 fights. The near-shutout was scored 99-89, 100-90, 100-89.
Shields (10-0, 2 KOs) overpowered Habazin from the opening bell, utilizing a strong jab and a steady diet of body shots that left the Croatian mostly in defensive mode throughout the 10-round fight. In the sixth round, a series of body shots forced Habazin to take a knee in the first knockdown of her career. It was also the first knockdown for the two-time Olympic Gold Medalist and undisputed middleweight world champion in her professional career.
Following the knockdown, Habazin continued forward but did so without throwing many punches. Habazin (20-4, 7 KOs) threw just 285 compared to 516 for Shields, who also connected on 38 percent of her power shots compared to just 18 percent for Habazin.
In the co-featured bout, welterweight sensation Jaron Ennis scored his 15th consecutive knockout with a dominating fourth round TKO over the durable Bakhtiyar Eyubov.
The switch-hitting Philadelphia native came out with a blistering pace in the first, switching from southpaw in the opening minute while displaying his signature power and hand speed. An onslaught of perfectly timed punches floored the normally durable Eyubov for the first time in his career midway through the opening round. Eyubov (14-1-2, 12 KOs) got up but was dropped against just 20 seconds later as the torrid pace continued. Eyubov survived the round and Ennis (25-0, 23 KOs) took his foot off the gas a bit in the second, but the unbeaten welterweight still landed at will against Eyubov, who continued to press forward.
Prior to the fourth round, Commissioner Larry Hazzard warned Eyubov that he would stop the fight if he didn’t see improvement. With Eyubov still pressing forward but eating dozens of punches, referee Earl Brown stepped in to stop the fight at :34 at the instructions of the Hazzard.
Ennis now has 23 knockouts in 25 fights and 13 knockdowns over his last six fights. Through four rounds the incredibly effective Ennis landed 47 percent of his power shots.
“We knew he was coming to fight and bring pressure so we mixed it up,” Ennis said. “He was a good fighter but he wasn’t really that strong. I was getting hit a little too much but that’s how we did it to get the knockout.
“We were just setting him up for power shots. I just had to calm down, that’s all. I was too hyped. Once I calmed down and got into my rhythm that was it.
“He was taking a lot of punishment. He definitely was a great fighter though. I appreciate him taking the fight because a lot of guys don’t want to fight me.”
With another dominating performance, Ennis now sets his sights on the upper echelon of one of boxing’s deepest and most exciting divisions.
“We have been wanting all the guys,” Ennis said. “They keep running. They can’t run no more. I’m right here.”
In the opening bout of the telecast, IBF Super Middleweight World Champion Elin Cederroos edged WBA champion Alicia Napoleon Espinosa to unify the super middleweight division in an all-action slugfest scored 95-94 three times.
Cederroos (7-0, 4 KOs) was more active from the opening bell, throwing 747 total punches over 10 rounds compared to 432 for the slightly more effective Napoleon Espinosa (12-2, 7 KOs). But the difference in the close scorecards was a second round knockdown that Cederroos registered with a perfectly timed check left hook in the closing moments of the second. It was the first knockdown of Napoleon Espinosa’s career and ultimately the deciding factor in the scorecards.
“I’m so happy. I showed that I can box and take a war,” Cederroos said. “But when I relaxed the punches just came. It feels so wonderful. Alicia was a great opponent.”
Napoleon Espinosa was game and hurt the Swedish Cederroos multiple times but she was largely unable to get inside against her taller opponent who consistently landed the bigger punches from a distance.
“I didn’t think I lost. I thought that it was fairly close but I thought I was ahead,” Napoleon Espinosa said. “It is what it is, but I don’t think that I lost this fight.
“I know she was strong, but I wanted a tough fight. I know that Elin is an athlete. I don’t feel that I lost. I feel like it was close.”
Napoleon Espinosa had been hoping that a win would position her for a 2020 fight with Claressa Shields at middleweight with all four of Shields’ 160-pound titles on the line.
“Congrats on the fight with Shields because that was what I was looking forward to,” Napoleon Espinosa said.
The event was promoted by Salita Promotions in association with T-REX BOXING PROMOTIONS.
Friday’s SHOWTIME BOXING: SPECIAL EDITION tripleheader will replay on Monday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on SHOWTIME EXTREME.