Feud between Claressa Shields and Ivana Habazin escalates as trainer jumps in with both feet

Claressa Shields and Ivana Habazin face off at Tuesday's press conference at Hotel Plaza Athenee in New York City prior to their WBC and WBO 154-pound title fight. (Michael Owens/Getty Images)
Claressa Shields and Ivana Habazin face off at Tuesday’s press conference at Hotel Plaza Athenee in New York City prior to their WBC and WBO 154-pound title fight. (Michael Owens/Getty Images)

A reporter was reeling off Claressa Shields’ long list of boxing achievements to Steve Upsher Chambers, the former welterweight who is now serving as Ivana Habazin’s trainer.

Habazin will fight Shields for the vacant WBC and WBO super welterweight title on Friday (9 p.m. ET, Showtime) in Atlantic City, New Jersey. A two-time Olympic gold medalist, Shields will be gunning for a world title in her third weight class in just her 10th professional fight.

Friday’s bout is the third time Shields and Habazin have been scheduled to fight. In 2019, Shields was injured and had to pull out of the first one. On the day of the weigh-in of the second fight, someone slugged Habazin’s trainer, James Ali Bashir, sending him into surgery.

The fight was postponed and Shields’ brother, Artis Mack, was arrested and charged with the crime. He is in jail awaiting trial.

Chambers was supposed to be there that day, but a mix-up sent him to the wrong venue and he missed Bashir being punched.

Bashir faces another surgery, and while Habazin said he’s improved, he’s still not ready to work, so Chambers took his spot. And he wasted no time unloading on Shields.

Shields calls herself the greatest women’s fighter of all-time, which is far from a consensus opinion. But she clearly has compiled a remarkable record in a short period, but Chambers would have none of it.

“I know what I see and believe me, she ain’t what she tells people she is or what a lot of people who don’t really know what they’re talking about thinks she is,” Chambers said.

“I don’t want to take away from what she did in the Olympics, because she did it, but when she fought in the Olympics, it was the first time women were ever in the Olympics. It’s not like there were a ton of girls out there. She was fighting the same handful of girls over and over. Claressa fought 77 times as an amateur and we had two girls in our camp as sparring partners and they each had fought her five times. That’s two girls alone who accounted for 10 of her 77 amateur fights. There weren’t a lot of difficult fights for her. … Her skill is pretty basic. She’s flat-footed and nothing special. She’s a good fighter, and she brings it, but she’s beatable.”

Tensions have increased between Shields and Habazin to the point that Shields was threatening to hurt Habazin.

Shields has just two knockouts in her nine pro fights, but told Yahoo Sports she doesn’t believe Friday’s bout will go more than six rounds tops.

“Her coach can talk, but that’s all he can do,” Shields said. “He got himself knocked out [in his fight career]. He don’t know nothing about me, to be honest with you. He’s just trying to get attention for his fighter, but he’s going to get her hurt.”

Habazin and Chambers laughed that off. When Chambers was questioned about the quality of her opposition — her last five opponents prior to Shields had a combined record of 27-27-2 — Chambers took off on Shields’ opposition.

He went after Tori Nelson, whom Shields defeated by one-sided decision in 2018.

“Records don’t fight, people fight, and if you’ve been around boxing for a long time, you should know that,” he said. “I can get you a fighter with a losing record who could beat a guy with a perfect record like it was nothing. Tori Nelson, all due respect to her, my fiancee doesn’t even box and I’d put her in the ring with [Nelson] right now and not worry.

“Tori Nelson was 17-0 [when she fought Shields] but she looked like she owned a barbecue spot. C’mon, man. She ain’t no fighter. You tell me that she’s 17-0 like beating her is a big deal, then. But who did she fight? They must have went in a bar and asked people if they wanted to make $400. They found 17 people to say yes.”

Habazin said she had her best camp and is eager to prove Shields wrong and slow the hype train.

Shields, though, isn’t about to concede a point. She’s said that she believes she could beat former male welterweight champions Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter and has said she’d give IBF middleweight champion Gennadiy Golovkin a run for the money.

She’s not lacking confidence, and her dreams are big, far beyond those of just about any of her peers.

“I want to make history because I want to be an inspiration for women and show them that they can do whatever they put their minds to doing,” said Shields, who dyes her hair blue for every fight to call attention to the ongoing water crisis in her native Flint, Michigan. 

“There are people in the media who paint me as a thug, and people criticize me for talking and expressing the truth, but that’s what you have to deal with when you’re making history. I ain’t bothered by it because I know what is real and what isn’t.”

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