Claressa Shields and Ivana Habazin are currently slated to fight for two 154-pound titles on Jan. 10 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, as previously reported by BoxingScene.com.
However, the twice-postponed and thrice-announced title fight has some fresh drama - with Habazin and her team of the belief that Shields—who is looking to become a three-division titlist faster than any boxer, male or female, in history—and her handlers are looking for a way out of the fight.
Bad blood continues to spill between camps, with no love lost from the when the originally scheduled August date—in Shields’ hometown of Flint, Michigan—was postponed due to Shields suffering an injury.
Things have grown far worse since then, including their Oct. 5 Showtime headliner in Flint being canceled (with the rest of the show going on as scheduled) after Habazin’s trainer, James Ali Bashir was assaulted prior to the start of the pre-fight weigh-in on Oct. 4 and hospitalized immediately thereafter to treat a broken jaw and orbital bone. Shields’ brother, Artis Mack was named as the suspect in question and arrested on the single charge of assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder.
Mack is due to stand trial for said allegations, for which he could serve up to 10 years in prison if found guilty on the single felony count.
Words have since been exchanged between the boxers, Croatia’s Habazin addressing the matter through an official statement and Shields recently calling out her planned ring rival during a live video chat on Instagram. The latter prompted the former welterweight titlist to respond.
“I want this statement to go out because I want the boxing public to know that Claressa is looking for a way out of this fight for the third time,” Habazin (20-3, 7KOs) insisted in a statement submitted by her team to BoxingScene.com. “All that rubbish she's spewing is her nerves getting the best of her. Ever since my trainer James Ali Bashir was attacked by Claressa's brother Artis Mack on October 4, 2019 I've made one statement to the media.
“On November 16, 2019 Claressa made a live video on Instagram where she claims that I referred to her as a "thug". In the video she states that "she is going to break my face" and "beat my ass." Sounds bold coming from Claressa who along with her promoter Salita Promotions, have been looking for any excuse to avoid fighting me. I understand that Claressa's reading comprehension is not good so I excuse her for saying I called her a "thug" which is not true.”
The claim in question comes from Habazin’s comments following the weigh-in fallout in reference to the company Shields kept throughout fight week and particularly on the day of the incident in question. In a story which previously ran on BoxingScene.com, Habazin delivered an open message to Shields claiming that “you can run your filthy mouth all you want. When my trainer recovers it will be just you and me in the ring. I want to see how tough you are when the thugs you hang out with aren’t there to help you.
“You’re going to find out just how scared I am of a classless fighter like you. Our day will come Claressa!”
According to Habazin, Shields (9-0, 2KOs) twisted her words to create her own angle in readdressing the past.
“The reference to the word "thug" was directed at her brother Artis Mack who in fact is the convicted felon who committed the cowardly act of sucker punching my trainer. James Ali Bashir,” notes Habazin. “On October 4th, Bashir was rushed to two hospitals in Michigan where he was admitted and required immediate emergency surgery. After his release, doctors noticed that there was bleeding in his brain, and determined that he suffered a stroke as a result of her brother’s cowardly act. Bashir has many unresolved effects from his injury and is under the care of several specialist. His road to recovery will be a long process. Sadly, he will not be in my corner if Claressa ever shows up to fight me.
“At first, [Shields} was nice and apologetic, not because it was the right thing to do, but because her handlers instructed her to show some class in order to avoid bad press and further tarnish her classless image. Claressa is trying to make this out to be a black vs white thing. To those who know me, they know the road I have traveled to get to where I am. They know I left home at 14 years of age. They know that I lived by myself in the basement of a boxing gym, with the heating system going on and off all night. There were no windows. I'm sure it was worse that the prison cell where Claressa's brother is in today.”
Of course, the best—and fully legal—way for two prizefighters to settle their differences is in the ring. With this fight, it has clearly proven problematic.
Shields has not fought since her 10-round wipeout of Christina Hammer to become the undisputed middleweight queen this past April in Atlantic City. Having already claimed two super middleweight titles in her fourth pro fight, the two-time Olympic Gold medalist was now looking to make boxing history—or as Shields and her team have branded it, HERstory—as a third-divisional title in 10 fights would eclipse the mark established by Vasiliy Lomachenko last May and matched by Kosei Tanaka four months later, with both accomplishing in 12 pro fights.
For the past six months—and through last Friday, upon submission of an official press release announcing the Showtime event—the targeted foe to challenge Shields date with destiny was Habazin, who has not fought since a 10-round points win over Eva Bajic last December in her native Croatia.
Circumstances since then have drastically changed, with Habazin’s team displeased with what they claim are unfair contractual stipulations placed in order to move forward with the rescheduled Jan. 10 fight date.
“Her promoter just got notice of lawsuit from James Ali Bashir's attorney for the October 4th incident where there was no security among other things,” notes Habazin. “Isn't is funny that all of a sudden he refuses to negotiate my purse in good faith and adds onerous [rematch] clauses in his bout contract that are against the WBC and WBO rules? [Sanctioning bodies prohibit the practice of rematch clauses for vacant title fights, with past titlists stripped for honoring a rematch clause rather than the governing body’s rules]. Coincidence you ask? This has been going on from day one. So now, I have to fight Claressa and her promoter (Salita Promotions founder and former contender Dmitriy Salita, whose comment to BoxingScene.com is forthcoming) at the same time.
“All your vile videos and trash talking prove to me that you're nervous and looking for a way out. Train hard Claressa, I don't want to hear any excuses if you get the courage to show up and fight me. I want to thank Showtime President Mr. Stephen Espinoza for not allowing your promoter to substitute me so you can have your way with an easier opponent [for the Oct. 5 event, which went on as scheduled save for the original main event] even though you and your promoter have tried this unsuccessfully. In your video you keep mentioning how great you think you are. You bring out the race card. Leave race out of this. This ain't about black or white. It about you and me.
“Stop trying to get out of fighting me. Try your best to "break my face" and "beat my ass" like you said in your classless video. Claressa, to do that you first need to stop making excuses and hiding behind your promoter and show up for the fight. You feel me?”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox