Claressa Shields has a new date with history—this time with her originally scheduled opponent fueled with plenty of motivation to disrupt those plans.
Shields’ junior middleweight title fight with Ivana Habazin has been rescheduled for a second time, now due to take place Jan. 10 at Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The bout will air live on Showtime, whose press office formally announced the Showtime Boxing: Special Edition event one day after ESPN.com senior writer Dan Rafael initially broke the news.
A win by Shields—a former super middleweight titlist and current reigning World middleweight champion—will give her a third divisional title win, with doing so in 10 fights will make her the quickest in history—male or female—to accomplish such a feat.
“My goal is to become three-division champ faster than any man or woman in history,” Shields (9-0, 2KOs) said. “This is a very significant fight for both of us. We have both trained really hard twice and great opportunities await the winner, so hopefully three times is the charm.”
Ukraine’s Vasiliy Lomachenko and Japan’s Kosei Tanaka share the current record, both having become three-division titlists by the 12th fight in their respective careers.
Plans for Shields—the self-proclaimed GWOAT (Greatest Woman Of All Time)—to trump that mark were originally slated for August in her hometown of Flint, Michigan, only for the two-time Olympic Gold medalist to suffer a knee injury which required surgery and proper rehabilitation.
The bout versus Croatia’s Habazin (20-3, 7KOs) was rescheduled for Oct. 5 in Flint, but took a disastrous turn prior to the weigh-in. A vocal dispute between camps reached a horrible boiling point, as Habazin’s head trainer James Ali Bashir was assaulted and hospitalized after being sucker-punched prior to the main event participants stepping to the scale. The show went on but without its original headliner, with both participants eagerly awaiting a new fight date.
One now has arrived, and with it a new sense of purpose for the perceived underdog.
“I've been thinking about this since October and I have more of an incentive now given what happened,” Habazin said. “I feel like I'm fighting for James Ali Bashir, as well as for my own pride and respect. I’m also fighting for my country. I want to make Croatia proud that I am their daughter, and I feel that I now have their full support. Claressa is just a brief stop on my journey.
“I have bigger dreams and bigger shoes to fill in my life. I’m on my way to fulfilling my personal legend – being crowned the undisputed women's junior middleweight champion. This is just another step on that journey. Given my faith, I feel that while what happened in October was incredibly unfortunate, this was God’s plan. And I have faith that my hand will be raised in victory in January.”
The 29-year old previously held a welterweight title, conceding the strap to unbeaten pound-for-pound queen Cecilia Braekhus who became the first female boxer in history to claim all four major titles in a single weight class following their Sept. 2014 clash. An April 2016 loss to Mikaela Lauren denied her efforts at becoming a two-division titlist, although Habazin has since won five straight.
Shields comes in as a considerable betting favorite, creating even more space between herself and the rest of the field after a 10-round whitewash of Christina Hammer in their undisputed middleweight championship this past April. Still, this bout is viewed as anything but a layup by her team.
“January 10 is going to be an important date in boxing history as Claressa continues her unprecedented journey toward greatness,” said Dmitriy Salita, President of Salita Promotions. “A win over Ivana Habazin would make Claressa – in just her tenth fight – the fastest boxer ever to acquire world title belts in three weight categories. But a very determined, skilled and experienced boxer stands in her way, and Ivana is pursuing her own world championship dream. History will be claimed in the ring on January 10 at the Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City and live on SHOWTIME.”
Also on the show is an intriguing junior welterweight title eliminator between unbeaten contenders Shohjahon Ergashev (17-0, 15 KOs) of Uzbekistan and Las Vegas’ Keith ‘The Bounty’ Hunter (11-0, 7KOs).
“My goal is to be the junior welterweight champion of the world in 2020,” said Ergahsev, who holds hard fought wins over Sonny Fredrickson and previously unbeaten Mykal Fox. “After I win this fight, I will be just one step away from realizing my dream of bringing the world title home to my country Uzbekistan.”
Standing in his way is a rising young talent from a boxing family.
“I’m looking forward to making my national television debut on Showtime,” said Hunter, whose late father Michael was a mid-level heavyweight during the late 1980s and early 1990s, and whose older brother Michael Hunter II is a current Top 10 heavyweight contender. “Boxing is in my blood and January 10 will be my chance to take my career to the next level. Ergashev has a bounty on his head, I’m here to collect!”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox