Dan RafaelESPN Senior WriterClose
- 2013 BWAA Nat Fleischer Award winner for excellence in boxing journalism
- ESPN.com boxing writer since 2005
- Five years at USA Today
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Claressa Shields, who has already unified two women’s world titles at super middleweight and then collected all four major belts to become the undisputed middleweight champion, made history on Friday night at the Ocean Casino Resort.
Shields, moving down in weight yet again, thoroughly dominated Ivana Habazin en route to a near-shutout decision to win a pair of vacant junior middleweight world title belts in the main event of a Showtime tripleheader.
Shields, who scored a knockdown in the sixth round, won 100-89, 100-90 and 99-89 and then placed a purple crown on her head. ESPN also scored it 100-89 for Shields.
Shields, who still holds the undisputed middleweight title, won a world title in a third weight class in just her 10th bout, setting the record for fewest number of fights needed to win belts in three divisions for a female or male boxer. Pound-for-pound king and unified lightweight world champion Vasiliy Lomachenko won a title in his third division in his 12th fight in May 2018, and flyweight titlist Kosei Tanaka matched the mark in September 2018.
“This feels great — I did it in 10 fights,” Shields said. “Now I’m No. 1, the fastest boxer in history to become a three-division world champion. I was [trying to punish her]. I wanted victory.”
Besides the satisfaction of making history — what Shields calls “herstory” — she also ended her feud with Habazin that goes back to August, when the fight was supposed to take place in Shields’ hometown of Flint, Michigan, but was postponed when she dislocated her right knee during training in late June. Habazin expressed doubts about the injury, saying she thought the real reason the fight was postponed was because Shields was having trouble making weight.
The fight was rescheduled for Oct. 5, also in Flint, but at the weigh-in the day before the bout, Habazin’s trainer, 68-year-old James Ali Bashir, was attacked and seriously injured. He was hospitalized with head and facial injuries and the fight was called off. Shields’ brother, Artis Mack, 28, was later arrested and is awaiting trial on one count of assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder.
And so the fight was eventually scheduled for a third time on Friday night with Bashir, still recovering, unable to train Habazin and being replaced by former pro welterweight Steve Upsher Chambers, though Bashir was on hand to wrap Habazin’s hands.
There was a lot of drama between Shields and Habazin over the past six months, but there was none in the fight because Shields (10-0, 2 KOs), 24, the two-time Olympic gold medalist who has declared herself the greatest female boxer of all time, cruised from the opening bell to the final one.
Shields, her hair dyed blue, got off to a strong start and never let up as she forced Habazin back with pressure and jabs in the first round. She carried the second round also, but she took exception when Habazin (20-4, 7 KOs), 30, a former welterweight world titlist from Croatia, shoved her into the ropes at the bell to end it and gave her a long stare before returning to her corner.
Shields boxed and moved and forced her jab into Habazin’s face, but she also fired power shots when she got in close, bouncing several right hands off Habazin’s head in the fourth round.
Shields continued to hammer Habazin in the sixth round — the round she predicted she would stop her in — and she nearly did when she landed a left hook to the body to knock Habazin down.
Shields did as she pleased against Habazin, who did not throw many punches and when she did could barely land anything solid. Her five-fight winning streak came to an end in her American debut.
“I just want to become a better fighter. That’s all. I want to grow women’s boxing,” Shields said. “I want to share a card with Deontay Wilder and Errol Spence. Andre Ward (who was ringside) said, ‘Sis, take her to the body.’ I was throwing all body shots in the first minute and then boom, she went down.”
According to CompuBox, Shields landed 141 of 516 punches (27%) and Habazin connected with just 49 of 285 (17%).
Shields was expected to return to the middleweight division for her next fight in May or June to defend her undisputed crown against Alicia Napoleon Espinosa, but Napoleon Espinosa lost a close decision to Elin Cederroos in a super middleweight unification bout on the undercard.
“I’d love to face Elin Cederroos. I’d love to fight her,” said Shields, who said this week that she would cross over and fight in an MMA bout before the end of the year. “None of these girls are ready for me.”
Ennis dominates, stops Eyubov
Blue-chip welterweight prospect Jaron “Boots” Ennis notched his 15th consecutive knockout victory in an utterly one-sided fourth-round demolition of Bakhtiyar Eyubov.
Ennis (25-0, 22 KOs) said beforehand that he wanted the fight — the highest-profile bout of his career so far — to be a coming-out party and he sure looked good.
His speed, size and power advantages were obvious immediately as he battered Eyubov throughout the first round. Ennis repeatedly banged Eyubov to the body with both hands and then went upstairs and knocked him down with a combination to the head midway through the round. Ennis dropped him to his knees seconds later with an onslaught of punches and laid a beating on him with accurate, fast punches.
It was a surprise Eyubov made it out of the round, but he came back for more punishment in the second round, which Ennis happily dished out.
Eyubov (14-2-1, 12 KOs), 33, of Kazakhstan, took a massive uppercut to close the third round and there was conversation in the corner about stopping the fight. It continued, but not for long. As Ennis, 22, the big crowd favorite fighting only an hour from his hometown of Philadelphia, continued to dominate in the fourth round, referee Earl Brown had seen enough and stopped it at 34 seconds.
“We knew he was coming to fight and bring pressure, so we mixed it up,” said Ennis, the younger brother of former pros Derek and Farah Ennis. “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. I appreciate him taking the fight because a lot of guys don’t want to fight me.”
Cederroos unifies super middleweight titles
In a close fight that featured plenty of back-and-forth action, Elin Cederroos knocked Alicia Napoleon Espinosa down in the second round and went on to win a unanimous decision to unify two women’s super middleweight world titles.
All three judges scored the fight 95-94 with the knockdown being the difference between Cederroos winning and a draw.
“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. She’s so professional. We had a fight in the ring and I hope now we are friendly.”
The loss knocked Napoleon Espinosa (12-2, 7 KOs), 33, of Lindenhurst, New York, out of a spring fight with Shields that had already been agreed to for Shields’ undisputed middleweight title as long as they both won.
Cederroos did not sound too interested in taking her place. When asked about possibly fighting Shields, Cederroos laughed.
“I’m focused on this fight. I’ll go home to Sweden to get back to training,” she said. “I want more belts. I need to build up my name.”
Cederroos (8-0, 4 KOs), 34, who began boxing after having two children, had clearly lost the first round and was getting dominated in the second round when she landed a clean left hook with 20 seconds left to drop Napoleon Espinosa into the ropes.
Napoleon Espinosa’s most effective weapon was her right hand, and she landed a solid one in the opening seconds of the seventh round to briefly knock Cederroos off balance.
The eighth round was action-packed as they slugged it out from bell to bell with each woman taking punishment. In the back-and-forth ninth round, Cederroos opened a cut over Napoleon Espinosa’s right eye, which dropped blood down her face throughout the 10th round. Later in the 10th, Cederroos, who was making the first defense of the vacant belt she won in March and fighting in the United States for the first time, began bleeding heavily from her nose as they closed the fight trading shots.
Napoleon Espinosa, who was making her third defense, did not agree with the decision but did not complain.
“I didn’t think I lost,” Napoleon Espinosa said. “I thought that it was fairly close, but I thought I was ahead. It is what it is, but I don’t think that I lost this fight. Congratulations to my opponent. I know she was strong, but I wanted a tough fight.”