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Preview: Claressa Shields and Ivana Habazin finally set to meet on Jan. 10

After tons of drama and controversy and two scrapped dates, Claressa Shields and Ivana Habazin settle things on Friday. (Knock on wood.)

Stephanie Trapp/SHOWTIME
Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

It’s been a long time coming, but — knock on wood — this Friday night on Showtime from Atlantic City, we’re set to finally get Claressa Shields vs Ivana Habazin, headlining the first Showtime boxing event of 2020.

The meeting between these two has been planned since last year, after Shields routed Christina Hammer to fully unify the middleweight division at Boardwalk Hall. The plan from there was for Shields to move down again, this time to 154, as she sought to make further “herstory” by winning world titles in three weight classes faster than anyone else in boxing ever has.

The 24-year-old Shields’ story is well-known at this point. Fighting out of Flint, Michigan, “T-Rex” was dominant at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, winning gold handily both years as the women were allowed to fight in the competition for the first two times ever. Pound-for-pound, she may have been the best women’s fighter both years, and given the fact that US men’s boxing has struggled so mightily at the Olympics this millennium, Shields becoming the first American boxer to win a gold medal since Andre Ward in 2004 became a story.

She gave off the impression of being very humble, very dedicated, very focused. Someone who was born to do what she was doing. But over seven years since the public first got to really know her, the impressions have changed for many.

Shields (9-0, 2 KO) is now seen as boastful and arrogant by some. She has followed a promotional blueprint that has been used many times over. She absolutely has her fans and supporters, but she has her detractors and “haters,” too. And the bottom line is, she wants everyone to watch, whether they’re tuning in to see her win or lose.

Shields’ confidence/arrogance comes from an honest place, at least. Since turning pro in Nov. 2016, she has absolutely dominated as a professional. Her amateur experience brought her into the women’s pro ranks a mile ahead of just about anyone she was going to face, first at 168 and then 160. Even when a fight was supposed to be competitive, against Hammer, it wasn’t. At all. Other than her constant promising of knockouts that don’t come, Shields backs up what she says she’s going to do in every fight, and there’s little reason to believe that changes on Friday.

The 30-year-old Habazin (20-3, 7 KO) won a vacant welterweight title in 2014, and lost it six months later to 147-pound queen Cecilia Braekhus via shutout decision. She’s also dropped fights to Eva Bajic in 2013 and Mikaela Lauren in 2016, and is a natural welterweight, though she has gone 4-0 since moving up to junior middleweight in 2017, though the competition has been really suspect.

If you watch what you can find of Habazin, there’s simply no reason to believe she’s a match for Shields in the ring. Shields is bigger, she’ll be stronger, she’s faster, she’s a better boxer. The only remote hope for Habazin here, at least as it appears from what you can scout, is that Shields could struggle to make weight, but Claressa looked fine on the scales in October before that was called off due to the attack on Habazin’s trainer, so that’s probably not a huge concern for Shields, either.

The most likely outcome here is another Shields mismatch, but there’s some real heat in this fight, too. The October incident obviously is the biggest thing, but Habazin and Shields talked plenty even before their initial August date. Shields is not hard to irk, and Habazin purposely set out to irk her, particularly when Shields was reported injured and Habazin speculated that Shields just wasn’t able to make weight in time. And Shields has proven capable of channeling anger and aggression in prior fights; others have tried to get under her skin, and it hasn’t worked against Claressa at all. If anything, she uses it effectively between the bells.

The biggest question may be whether or not Shields gets her first stoppage since Aug. 2017, when she put away Nikki Adler in the fifth round of her fourth pro fight.

We’ll have more on Shields-Habazin this week, including our staff picks on Thursday and live coverage on Saturday! Stick with us!

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