ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Two-time Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields remained undefeated and won the 154-pound championship with a unanimous decision over overmatched Ivana Habazin on Friday night at Ovation Hall.
Shields (10-0, 2 KOs) already won the middleweight and super middleweight crowns in her brief career and become the fastest fighter in boxing history — either male or female — to become a three-division world champion. That milestone is skewed a bit because women's boxing doesn't have the depth of talent or years of title fights as men, but it's still one more achievement reached for the Flint, Michigan, fighter.
She won on the scorecards 99-89, 100-90, 100-89 to bring home the junior middleweight title.
"It wasn't what I wanted but I'm happy with the improvement," Shields said.
Shields walked out for the fight like a queen, dressed in a gold gladiator costume complete with a Queen's crown on her head. She shimmied and danced to a choreographed routine with her entourage as Beyonce's "Run the World (Girls)" blared through the arena. Her braided hair streaked in blue, Shields had the crowd on her side and even had fellow 2016 Olympic boxer Shakur Stevenson hold her championship belts.
Shields won Olympic gold in 2012 in London and repeated the feat four years later in Rio de Janiero. Against Habazin, she was never truly threatened and toyed with her for most of the 10 punishing rounds in front of a sparse crowd of maybe 1,000 fans.
Shields had a famous fan in actress Rosie Perez, who tweeted in the sixth round, "@Claressashields just forced Habazin to take a knee!" Shields staggered her opponent and worked over Habazin over the final four rounds toward the easy win.
Shields is as braggadocios as an athlete gets, calling herself a "once-in-a-century kind of athlete," and the GWOAT. Yes, the Greatest Woman Of All Time. She may not be there yet -- Christy Martin or Laila Ali would gladly stake a claim to that title -- but she could enter the debate. But will she stick around much longer? Shields has open about wanting to try an MMA career, where even a cursory glance from a major promotion would mean more money and exposure for the former Olympian.
Once the Las Vegas of the East when it came to staging major fights, the boxing scene withered away in Atlantic City over the last decade. Ovation Hall had more than 100 tickets for sale (at $65 a pop) when the Showtime card started at 9 p.m. and no tickets listed on major secondary market websites. The merchandise stand was nothing more than three Shields T-shirts for $25 each ("$20 if you buy right now, deal only for you!" said one overzealous saleswoman) and the crowd responded more in polite applause than creating any palpable buzz until her dramatic entrance.
This was the third try of the fight and it went off without any unnecessary drama. The first bout was scratched because Shields injured her knee in training. The second attempt for a fight set in Flint went off the rails at the weigh in when Habazin's trainer was struck by Shields' brother and was hospitalized the night before the bout, so the fight was postponed.
Habazin failed to match Shields in theatrics, though her 68-year-old trainer Bashir Ali, attacked Oct. 4 during the weigh in at Flint, accompanied her to the ring Friday night.
Maybe Shields fights again at super middleweight, where Elin Cederroos defended her share of the 168-pound title in a bloody spectacle againt Alicia Napoleon-Epinosa. Cederroos sat in the third row with the championship belt on her lap for the Shields fight. She had a look of nonplussed nonchalance about the prospect of fighting Shields.
"I'll go home to Sweden to get back to training," she said. "I want more belts.I need to build up my name."
Shields, who gave up eating meat the last three months to help tone her physique and drop the weight needed to hit 154 pounds, has certainly made her name in the fight game.
"I just want be a better fighter, that's all," she said. “I wanted to grow woman's boxing.”