By Amy Tennery
NEWYORK (Reuters) – Claressa Shields owns two Olympic gold medals and a 9-0 record as a professional boxer. But a violent incident outside the ring involving her brother has left the American rising star dealing with the emotional toll of the abrupt cancellation of a highly anticipated bout.
A scheduled Oct. 5 super welterweight championship fight against Ivana Habazin in Flint, Michigan, was supposed to be a triumphant homecoming for the 24-year-old Shields.
An altercation prior to the official weigh-in in which Shields’ brother allegedly attacked Habazin’s trainer, sending him to the hospital, left a hoped for celebration in tatters.
Shields, who was in New York to accept the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) Individual Sportswoman of the Year Award for the second time, told Reuters on Wednesday the incident and cancellation marked one of the toughest moments in her career.
“Boxing is the only thing I can really focus on in times like this,” said Shields, who turned pro in 2016. She said the pre-fight violence “made me feel empty on the inside.”
“I feel like I let my city down. Even though it wasn’t my actions,” she said.
The Genesee County prosecutor on Wednesday charged Shields’ brother, Artis Mack, with one count of assault with intent to do great bodily harm. A representative for Shields declined to comment on the charge.
Habazin wrote on Twitter that her trainer, James Bashir Ali, was hospitalized with “bleeding in his brain.”
Shields has not been accused of any wrongdoing, but the incident, which she has repeatedly denounced, has left her feeling tremendously disappointed.
“It was like this was the fight that was going to take me over the top,” Shields said. “And before I make it all the way to the top, I want to have my time in Flint. It was ruined.”
The undisputed middleweight champion had enjoyed an unblemished career that included victory over Christina Hammer in April, in what was widely seen as a definitive match in the women’s sport.
At the WSF event, where she was honoured alongside U.S. women’s national soccer team player Megan Rapinoe, Shields said she found inspiration in her fellow athletes, and was eying a possible career move into Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).
The Rio de Janeiro and London Games gold medallist said fans could potentially see her compete in MMA “in the next year.”
She plans to train on Thursday with five-time world wrestling champion Adeline Gray to help prepare her for the career move.
“I feel like I could be great at MMA,” said Shields. “I just really want to learn how to wrestle, learn how to kick, learn some defensive stuff.
“And then, once I’m comfortable enough, I’ll jump inside the cage.”
(Reporting By Amy Tennery; Editing by Bill Berkrot)