Weekend Cards Mark Encouraging Start for Boxing in A.C. in 2020
Boxing in Atlantic City is getting off to an encouraging start this year.
Back-to-back cards at Ocean Casino Resort and Hard Rock Hotel & Casino are being held in town this weekend, suggesting that the sport might finally be on the rebound on the Boardwalk.
Claressa Shields (9-0, 2 KOs), of Flint, Michigan, will be bidding to become the fastest three-division world champion in boxing history at Ocean tonight, when she faces Croatia's Ivan Habazin (20-3, 7 KOs for the vacant World Boxing Council and World Boxing Organization junior-middleweight titles. The bout, promoted by Salita Promotions, will be shown on Showtime.
It marks the first world championship fight in Atlantic City since last April 13, when Shields gained the WBO middleweight title with a decision over Christina Hammer at Boardwalk Hall's Adrian Phillips Ballroom.
On Saturday night, Las Vegas-based Top Rank returns to town when Philadelphia light-heavyweight Jesse Hart (26-2, 21 KOs) takes on Long Island, N.Y.'s Joe Smith Jr (24-3, 20 KOs) at Hard Rock Live Etess Arena on ESPN.
Shields, who has already won belts at super-middleweight and middleweight, would become a three-division champion in her 10th fight. That would top record the held by Vasily Lomachenko (featherweight, super-featherweight, super-lightweight) and Kosei Tanaka (minimum, junior-flyweight, flyweight), who both accomplished the feat in their 12th fights.
Shields-Habazin was postponed twice. It was originally moved from Aug. 17, 2019 to Oct. 5 after Shields suffered a knee injury in training, but was postponed again due one of the ugliest incidents in recent boxing history.
Habazin's trainer, James Ali Bashir, was attacked during the weigh-in in Flint. Artis Mack, Shields' brother, was arrested and pleaded not guilty to one count of assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder.
Bashir is still recovering from his injuries. Assistant trainer Steve Upsher Chambers will be in Habazin's corner tonight.
"Everyone who was in Flint and knows about the incident that happened knows it's not something I have a history of doing," Shields told ESPN.com. "I don't do stuff outside the ring."
As a result of the incident, both Salita Promotions and the New Jersey Athletic Control Board took precautions for Thursday's weigh-in at Ocean.
The public was not permitted to attend. There were approximately a half dozen police officers in attendance and only one representative from each camp was permitted to accompany the fighters.
"These weigh-ins have gotten out of control," Control Board Commissioner Larry Hazzard said. "I've been involved with them for over 40 years and they've turned into spectacles. I've seen some where you had over 200 people at the weigh-in and that's just ridiculous. What happened in Flint was a real black eye for the sport. It's time to bring some civility back to boxing."
The weigh-in went off without a hitch, save for a light-hearted moment when Habazin brought some ice cream with her to the scale and offered some to Shields.
There is no title at stake for Hart and Smith, but that doesn't mean there's nothing on the line.
Hart, a Philadelphia native, is seeking revenge on behalf of mentor Bernard Hopkins. Hopkins' legendary career literally came to a crashing halt when Smith knocked him out of the ring during an eighth-round TKO on Dec. 17, 2016 in Inglewood, Calif.
"I have to redeem Bernard," Hart told ESPN.com. "I have to do it for our city."