By Robert Aaron Contreras
On Friday, Claressa Shields (10-0, 2 KO) was up to her old tricks: bruising and bullying her way to a commanding victory over former champion Ivana Habazin (20-4, 7 KO). With the unanimous decision, the American popularizer set the record for fewest fights to claim a championship belt in three weight divisions, man or woman (here’s your grain of salt). Vasiliy Lomachenko previously held the mark, accomplishing the triple crown in 12 fights.
“I did it in 10 fights,” Shields explained to Showtime correspondent Jim Gray. “The fastest boxer in history to become a three-time division world champ.”
That Shields came out unscathed was to be expected considering her two gold medals and her imposing style capable of bashing super middleweights let alone a lifetime welterweight.
All told, Shields arguably give away the opening round. Hanging back for the majority of the two minutes, and in lapses driving forward with her head down allowing the Croatian veteran to land rabbit punches. Meanwhile a handful of rights and lefts from Shields skidded across Habazin’s waste and belly.
Habazin, 30, broke out for Round 2 like a demoniac, though with fewer punches than grappling attempts. The cable commentary was quick to point out her wrestling but not Shields’. The champion closed the distance with a triple jab and put her stamp on the action with monster right hands, up close. The shots left Habazin noticeably more timid in the next couple rounds. She desperately avoided Shields’ power. Even in the center of the ring for the fourth stanza, feints and short jabs were useless as she was left completely out of range.
Routinely Shields allowed herself to be pressured to the ropes. She easily turned Habiza. The bell to the fourth round ended with Shields leaning against the ropes, making taunting gestures to her challenger.
The action shifted back to the center of the ring for the sixth inning. Shield walked over and uncorked a right cross followed by a lethal left hand to Habazin’s midsection. The clobbered fighter could only hobble around, hoping to job off the pressure swelling in her liver. That’s when more punches came her way. Powerful. Fair, until that knockdown.
Consider the sixth round that saw Habazin from a sustained body attack drop to a knee—accounting for the first knockdown of Shields’ career. Impressive enough, to be sure. But Shields had one more right hand for her downed opponent. Referee Sparkle Lee did not seem to mind, ignoring the shot, saving her energy for the eighth period where she took a timeout to reprimand the title challenger for holding.
Habazin had a revitalizing stretch early in the seventh round. She dumped rights and lefts into Shields, who was bunkered up at the perimeter of the ring. Her engine sputtered soon after and Shields used her big power to set momentum back in her favor.
In Round 8, Shields was stepping into hard hooks into Habazin. The visting boxer’s only luck was to grab a hold of Shields and recalibrate her strategy. The referee would have none of it, quickly stepping between the combatants to issue a warning to Habazin. Left with no other choice, overhand rights were Habazin’s attack of choice for the ninth frame. Shields was still having her way.
The 24-year-old Michigan native stabbed into her counterpart with long right hands. Habazin moved away in survival mode and Shields, catching up with her, covered immense distance arcing right hands.
Habazin in the final round used her weight to stick Shields to the ropes. Throwing hooks, madly, her eyes closed. In return, Shields flurried both hands, circled around Habaizn, off the ropes. The action soon trickled back to the perimeter of the ring: Shields knowing this was a wrap, sticking behind her gloves, counting down the clock. More hooks from Habazin came her way, most of them colliding with Shield’s elbows.
Victorious—again—is undoubtedly the face of women’s boxing in America. And that face was all smiles after putting an end to her harshest rivalry.
Speaking with Gray after the fight, Shields admitted that she was in there not just to come out victorious but to punish Habazin, the closing argument to a feud originating from two previously-scheduled meetings and the controversy surrounding the assault against James Ali Bashier. “I think Ivana can take a piece of humble pie and go back to Croatia… she couldn’t do nothing with me—zero.”
“Boots” Ennis knocks out Eyubov in fourth round
Jaron Ennis (25-0, 23 KO) is still undefeated after stopping Bakhitiyar Eyubov (14-2-1, 12 KO) in four rounds. After two knockdowns in the first round, Eyubov became a sedentary target, which referee Albert Early Brown couldn’t stand to see be whipped around any longer.
Ennis was forced to place matador early. Eyubov charged forward from a crouched position, firing off left hooks. Ennis countered with quick combinations, his zipping about, paying to press down on his stalking opponent’s head to create distance, stalling Eyubov’s attack for the split second he needed to circle away. The undefeated prospect couldn’t stay off the topes forever so he snapped back-to-back left uppercuts, which stunned Eyubov.
One more stunning left hand found its way between Eyubov’s eyes and he went down. He made it up and was treated with more ripping rights and left, quickly going down again. Still all in the opening frame.
For the next two rounds, Ennis spent more time along the ropes from his opponent’s pressure. But noticing Eyubov’s lowered head and the perfect opening for uppercuts, Ennis strung together combinations: right hook downstairs, followed by left uppercut to the head. The punches were chipping away Eyubov.
In the fateful fourth, Eyubov could only look on as a spectator which Ennis’ combos flickered across his face—a succession of right-left-right, short and flashy shots. The referee saw him offer back no punches, opting to attempt to wrestle, and he waved it off.
Ennis has now opened his career with 25 straight wins, 92 percent of which have been by knockout. Eyubov has dropped two straight, making up a three-fight winless streak, fighting to a draw prior to his back-to-back losses.
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