Boxing in Atlantic City will get off to an encouraging start next year with a Jan. 10-11 doubleheader.
Women’s star Claressa Shields (9-0, 2 KOs) will attempt to win a championship in a third weight class when she faces Croatia’s Ivana Habazin (20-3, 7 KOs) for the vacant World Boxing Council and World Boxing Organization junior-middleweight titles Jan. 10 at Ocean Casino Resort.
One day later, Philadelphia’s Jesse Hart (26-2, 21 KOs) will meet Joe Smith Jr., (24-3, 20 KOs), of Long Island, New York, at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in a nontitle light-heavyweight fight.
Shields-Habazin, which is promoted by Salita Promotions, will be televised on “Showtime Championship Boxing.” ESPN will televise Hart-Smith, which is promoted by Top Rank and Star Boxing.
“When you have two fighters who can punch like heck, anything can happen,” Top Rank chairman Bob Arum said Tuesday in a statement. “We believe Jesse Hart has everything it takes to become a world champion, but Joe Smith Jr. can turn the lights out at any moment.”
Hart, son of legendary Philadelphia middleweight Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, will make his eighth appearance in Atlantic City, where he is 7-0 with seven knockouts. He dropped a majority decision to Gilberto Ramirez in a WBO super-middleweight title fight last year but rebounded with a unanimous decision win over Sullivan Barrera in Las Vegas in June.
Smith, a union construction worker, will make his Atlantic City debut. The 30-year-old is best known for scoring an eighth-round knockout over Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame member Bernard Hopkins in 2016 in Inglewood, California. It was Hopkins’ last fight.
In his last fight, Smith dropped a unanimous decision to World Boxing Association champion Dmitry Bivol in New York in March.
“This is personal,” Hart said in a statement. “Bernard (Hopkins) inspired me to be what I became. I wouldn’t be right if I didn’t avenge that defeat. I can’t move forward unless I beat him.
“This is a Philly thing. It’s more personal than business for me. I want a world title shot at light heavyweight, but I have to get through this guy first.”
What are the top 10 boxing matches held in Atlantic City?
Atlantic City once rivaled - and maybe even surpassed - Las Vegas as the unofficial "Boxing Capital of the World." Starting in the 1980s, the resort hosted some of the best fighters and fights in the sport. Thrilling brawls and stunning knockouts were earned at Boardwalk Hall and casino showrooms.
Dave Weinberg breaks down his 10 most memorable fights held in Atlantic City over the last 30 years.