Atlantic City (January 10, 2020) — The year’s first Showtime Boxing event – a Special Edition card organized by Salita Promotions – really boiled down to two individuals needing to make a statement: highly-skilled Welterweight Jaron Ennis and Ivana Habazin.
Claressa Shields’ bid to make history by becoming the fastest fighter to win world titles in three divisions made the event a moment. Shields passed arguably her toughest test Thursday when she weighed in at 153.5 pounds – her lowest weight as a pro. Habazin had the opportunity to prove otherwise.
Philadelphia’s Ennis entered the bout possibly embarking upon his journey towards becoming a mandatory challenger. Supposedly opponents are difficult to come by, but Bakhtiyar Eyubov accepted the assignment, vowing to revive his own career. WBA Super Middleweight champion Alicia Napoleon-Espinosa faced IBF champion Elin Cederroos in the opener, looking to unfify and audition for a potentially lucrative fight with Shields.
The Main Event: Shields vs Habazin
Shields stepped up the production value of her ring walk. Along with some members of her team, Shields briefly got into some steps from the choreography of Beyoncé’s video for her hit “Run The World (Girls)” released in 2011. Habazin stood in her corner with her trainer James Ali Bashir.
Habazin unleashed at two-punch combination immediately. Shields moved back to a corner to reassess Habazin’s intentions. Shields regained her ground with an overhand right. Habazin landed a short right hook.
Shields took the lead after the second round bell. The action settled and both women stood with their arms down. Shields went to work looking to score effective punches to the head and body.
In the third round with Shields’ offense heating up, Habazin displayed signs of frustration. She closed the distance looking to stay close and possibly punch with a free hand.
Habazin threw a couple of jabs early in round four, but still appeared to be unwilling to punch fluidly with Shields. Shields attacked less with her jab and became a little wild, fighting more than boxing the Croatian.
Shields took a big right hand from Habazin but the 30-year old took a body shot from Shields that changed the course of the fight. Shields recognized the reaction and moved in to go back to Habazin’s body. A right hook behind Habazin’s guard landed, and she knelt down to take a knee. Habazin easily beat the count and the action resumed as Shields attempted to close the show up against the clock.
The second half of the fight was far less eventful beyond Shields’ heavy reliance on her body work. That may have been a function of Habazin’s wildness or being off balance. Habazin’s objective gradually became crossing the finish line more so than landing anything significant.
In between short head-and-body outbursts from Shields, Habazin rarely managed to put together an offense or any sustained attack. Her face began to wear the signs of Shields’ punishment.
Habazin managed to pin Shields along the ropes for moments in the two final rounds. However, she rarely created the space to touch Shields with any shot that could hurt Shields or improve her chances of winning. The two-time Olympic gold medalist’s hand speed made Habazin too uncomfortable to exchange in the pocket. If she wasn’t pushing Shields away, she fired single lazy jabs before moving inside to body up Shields and slow the action. The judges saw the action as one-sided and turned in cards of 99-89, 100-90 and 100-89.
Shields, the undisputed Middleweight champion, exited the ring with the WBC and WBO 154-pounds – and an uncertain next move.
Ennis Stops Eyubov in a One-Way Battle
In the co-main event Ennis’ versatility was matched against Eyubov’s lone calling card – his power.
Ennis banged away at Eyubov’s guard, mostly, over the first 90 seconds or so. While it appeared the shots were defended well they began to take their toll. The 22-year old Philadelphia native eventually opened Eyubov’s guard and scored a pair of knockdowns over the final half of the round.
Eyubov fought his way into the second stanza. Once there he encountered an array of powerful shots including a punishing left uppercut that rocked him. Eyubov pressed forward, marched towards Ennis’ chest while shooting looping shots to the right and left of Ennis’ head.
In the third round Ennis continued to chop away, often in blazing combinations. Somehow Eyubov continued to march forward landing his wider shots in intermittent bursts. He refused to sit down after the round, and was visited by New Jersey’s commissioner Larry Hazard who advised the corner they only had one more round. Eyubov objected to the warning and readied himself to prepare for the task at hand.
Ennis attacked freely in the fourth, with flurries that went too unanswered in referee Earl Brown’s opinion. Brown stopped the fight 34 seconds in, and Ennis moved to 25-0 with his 23rd KO.
While the fight went according to script, and the stoppage seemed to be a bit ill-timed, Ennis showed the ability to take and deal with some decent shots from the hard-swinging Eyubov. Until Ennis is able to secure fights with the Welterweight division’s top-ranked contenders this may be all that’s learned about the kid’s reaction to adversity.
Elin Cederroos Drops Napoleon-Espinosa Early and Ekes Out Decision
Cederroos opened the first round active. The size difference was noticeable and Napoleon-Espinosa looked a bit out of sorts in the face of the Swede’s volume.
In the second round Cederroos dropped Napoleon-Espinosa with a straight right hand-sweeping left hook combination that violently snapped the New Yorker’s head around. After a slight pause Napoleon-Espinosa stumbled backwards into the ropes for a knockdown.
Napoleon-Espinosa spent the opening of the third round way outside, but began making her way back inside to reengage over the final minute. She attempted to set up her overhand right while Cederroos worked to maintain distance to capitalize on her reach.
Napoleon-Espinosa rallied in the close of the fourth, finally getting inside to land her right hand. Unfortunately she found her mark just seconds before the bell.
Cederroos reestablished her distance in round six behind an active jab and volume punching. Napoleon-Espinosa was disarmed most of the round, but landed some bigger shots out of determination. She stood in the pocket more in the seventh round as Cederroos got away from her tactical advantages.
The pair exchanged a series of big shots in the eighth round. Cederroos unleashed her full arsenal. Napoleon-Espinosa threw caution to the wind, kept things simple and marched forward behind multiple fully-loaded right hands.
Cederroos’ attack was measured in the ninth, as she comfortably jabbed, placed her right hand and stepped backwards out of reach. By the end of the round Napoleon-Espinosa wsa bleeding badly from a cut above her right eye.
Both women saved their best for the 10th and final round. Napoleon-Espinosa bloodied Cederroos’ nose shortly after the bell. Cederroos moved in for payback. The two champions slugged it out over the balance of the round in an attempt to sway the judges in their favor. In the end Cederroos’ hand was raised unanimously, winning 95-94 on all three cards.
Cederroos spoke diplomatically regarding a potential fight with Shields, she was overcome with her 8th win, as well as the addition of the WBA title. Napoleon-Espinosa expressed her disappointment in failing to become a unified champion and squandering a career-defining showdown with Shields.
Featured image by Stephanie Trapp/Showtime