SAN DIEGO, Calif., October 4, 2019 – The anticipated super welterweight title fight between current unified middleweight women’s champion Claressa Shields of Flint, Michigan (9-0. 2 KOs) and Ivana Habazin of Croatia (20-3, 7 KOs) was cancelled late Friday afternoon after Habazin’s trainer Ali James Bashir was attacked prior to the weigh-in. Bashir was reported to have been “sucker punched” by someone loosely affiliated with Shields’ camp. Bashir, who was unconcious for a short period, was transported to McLaren Medical Center for treatment of facial injuries, reported by various sources as a broken jaw and damage to several teeth. Habazin accompanied her trainer to the hospital. Shields’ manager Mark Taffet also paid Bashir a visit.
It’s a huge disappointment for both Shields and Habazin, either of whom hoped to make “herstory” by winning the vacant WBC and IBF women’s welterweight titles. WBC General Manager José Antonio Arreola Sulaimán issued a statement several hours after the incident: “The WBC strongly condemns any act of violence in any event related to our sport, and specially the horrible attack which took place in an official activity surrounding this event. The WBC is certain that the corresponding authorities will apply the full extent to the law to this regrettable incident. The WBC will monitor the investigation and resolution of the case, and will then determine if an actionable WBC violation of any WBC Rule, Regulation or Code of Ethics took place.”
Various sources reported attempts to find a replacement opponent for Shields, including a comment made by Shields’ trainer John David Jackson identifying one candidate as “someone who Shields had fought before,” likely to be Hannah Rankin, who is scheduled to appear on the undercard against veteran Erin Toughill in a six-round middleweight bout. Although Habazin was not injured as a result of the altercation, she was present. Going into a championship bout without your trainer is bad enough, but going into such a high stakes fight knowing your trainer is in a hospital is too much to ask.
Showtime Boxing producers made the decision to cancel the main event, making the formal announcement at approximately 8 p.m. Eastern Time, but the televised card will continue with the co-main event between undefeated welterweight Jaron “Boots” Ennis (23-0, 21 KOs) of Philadelphia and Demien Daniel Hernandez (12-1, 5 KOs) of Argentina. The 22-year-old Ennis is a talented fighter who has quickly amassed an impressive record since turning pro after a brief amateur career three years ago.
At the final news conference earlier this week, Ennis said “I’m ready to rock and roll. Saturday night I’m going to show Flint, Michigan what I can do. This is about the next steps to the next level. To get to the elite level, that’s what we want.” Ennis called for the knockout, saying “I’ve been sparring a lot of bigger guys because I can’t spar guys my weight or lower because I’m too strong for them. So it’s been only bigger guys in there for sparring. Whatever he brings, we will be ready for anything.”
Saying Ennis has a padded record, Hernandez said, “I came here to bring a victory back to Argentina. I know that my opponent is worthy, but he’s got nothing for me. My heart will be the difference in this fight. I’m going to run right through him like a train. I believe that I am better in every aspect of the sport.”
Showtime viewers will also see the 10-round heavyweight fight between Michigan native Jermaine Franklin of Saginaw (19-0, 13 KOs) and Pavel Sour (11-1, 6 KOs) of the Czech Republic. Franklin is getting back into the ring after a lackluster performance in July in which he won a split decision. It’s smart for Franklin to shake off the experience and put his mind to delivering a performance his hometown fans will enjoy. It’s even more important now that Flint’s favorite daughter is off the card.
Franklin’s comments earlier this week about the challenges of fighting in front of family and friends were prescient about the kind of missteps that can happen before a major title fight as they did Friday.”
“In boxing, there’s always a lot of distractions whether you’re fighting home or not. The biggest one is just trying to stay calm. I get a burst of adrenaline when I’m fighting at home. Other than that, I don’t let the distractions affect me because I’m dedicated.
“I don’t think I’m that far away from a big opportunity on a big stage. I still have some points to prove. I need to wake some people up. But I don’t think I’m far away from a big pay day, I’m closing in,” said Franklin.
The 25-year-old Frankin takes on a man 12 years his senior in Sour. “I’m really happy to be here for my first time in the U.S. I’m very grateful for my team for getting me this opportunity and I’m going to make the most of it. Franklin is a strong fighter. He wants to go toe-to-toe, but I’m going to box him from a distance and control the fight from start to finish. I think that I have a lot of experience in the ring that will help me in this fight. I’ve boxed for 21 years. He was only a kid when I started in this sport,” explained Sour. While Sour did have his first sanctioned amateur bout in 2009, he didn’t have another until 2014, and he has only fought professionally for three years.
Ennis and Franklin know they need to shoulder a bit more of the responsibility Saturday to put on a good show for fans at the Dort Federal Event Center in Flint who were hoping to see world championship boxing, and for the audience at home watching on Showtime. They both have a chance to shine and impress, and they should do whatever it takes to rise to the occasion.
Many details surrounding the Bashir incident remain unverified and unclear. Video snippets posted to social media show an exchange of words between someone apparently affiliated with Shields camp and trainer Bashir. Shields is coming down to 154 pounds from the 160-pound middleweight division for the fight. She never officially weighed in, so there’s no confirmation whether she would have made the limit or not.
In a video posted on her social media channels, Shields said she left the arena and was not present when Bashir was attacked. She says she learned about it much later.
Women’s professional boxing is fighting for recognition within the sport. A negative incident gives its many critics new fuel to protest women’s boxing as a whole.
Showtime Boxing just can’t catch a break lately. Its possible opportunity to broadcast the rematch between Deontay Wilder and Luis Ortiz went to Fox Pay Per View instead. Now one of the few major Saturday cards it’s put on in months is weakened at a time when it can ill afford to lose money on a boxing broadcast.
Whatever the circumstance, and whatever the perceived provocation, punching a 70-year-old man who has never been in any kind of negative incident during his boxing career is more than unacceptable. It’s reprehensible behavior and it hurts everyone involved in the sport of boxing. Here’s hoping Ali James Bashir makes a complete and full recovery, and the perpetrator is caught, convicted and punished, then hit with a restraining order banning them from ever attending any boxing related events in the future.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal is a veteran boxing observer covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
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