Lee Haskins on facing Ryan Burnett: ‘It’s a 50-50 fight’
No matter what he does, IBF bantamweight titleholder Lee Haskins rarely gets the respect he deserves, and that is disconcerting.
The 33-year-old southpaw, who is rated No. 3 by THE RING at 118 pounds, is a decorated and highly skilled professional who has done everything asked of him. During a 14-year career, Haskins has captured two British championships, two Commonwealth championships and two European championships.
When his moment finally came to fight for a world title, in November 2015, Randy Caballero weighed in 5.5 pounds over the limit and surrendered his belt on the scales. Haskins was immediately instated as full IBF titleholder but he hadn’t won his belt in the ring. There were no red carpets. Again, there was no respect.
This Saturday, Haskins (34-3, 14 knockouts) defends his title for the third time against the 25-year-old Ryan Burnett at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Undoubtedly talented, the challenger promises to be an extremely tough proposition to overcome, but the “no respect” theme continues for Haskins.
Burnett (16-0, 9 KOs) has been a professional for four years and his opposition has been largely undistinguished. Many within the trade believe that it’s too early for him so, again, Haskins is unlikely to be given any credit should he manage to win the fight. And that’s despite the fact that Burnett has been installed as a 2-1 favorite.
“A lot of people have said it’s too early, but he’s a very good fighter,” Haskins told RingTV.com. “I doubt that (Burnett’s promoter) Eddie Hearn and (Burnett’s trainer) Adam Booth would stick him in there if they thought it was too early. Some people say it’s too early for him but a lot of people might say it’s too late for me.
“We just need to see who wants it the most. I wish Ryan all the best for this fight, for the future — and the same with myself.”
The buildup to this fight has been extremely well-mannered. As Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko proved in April, you don’t need empty rhetoric and profanity to precede a good prizefight and that would appear to be the philosophy adopted here. When I spoke to Burnett on Monday, he was oozing confidence but also acknowledged the quality of his opponent.
Haskins was also complimentary of Burnett.
“He’s a very good boxer and I think he boxes a lot like myself,” said Haskins. “He’s got the style and movement. He’s got good footwork. We’ll see on the night how I deal with that because I’ve struggled with movers in the past. I prefer the opponents who walk on to things.
“I’m very confident and I’m in a great place in my life. Plus, I’ve always wanted to fight in front of a Belfast crowd. I’m a big fan of (former two-weight world titleholder) Carl Frampton, who is one of my favorite fighters in the game today. I see the reception he gets and it’s absolutely incredible. I know I’ll be getting booed but I’m happy to be part of it.”
It was appropriate, at this point, to take Haskins’ cue. The Englishman faces the unenviable task of taking on a Belfast-born fighter in front of a Belfast fight crowd. If you want to know how pleasant an experience that is, then ask Chris Avalos. I was ringside the night he was stopped by Frampton and the American must have felt like he was inside a boiling pot of Irish stew. And that was before Frampton landed a punch.
Haskins, a professional for 14 years, remains completely unfazed by the prospect of some major hostility.
“It’ll bring the best out in me,” he said. “When a crowd is booing me it gets me up for it a little bit more. I just plan on enjoying the occasion. I’ve boxed away from home plenty of times and I’ve boxed in some not very nice places. Once we get in the ring, it’s all the same to me.
“I believe I box better when I’m away from home, and I’m raring to go. And it was a trip for me and the kids, so it was a win-win situation.”
The 118-pound division is full of winners. Japanese star and pound-for-pound entrant Shinsuke Yamanaka holds the RING and WBC titles. Ricky Hatton protégé Zhanat Zhakiyanov is the WBA titleholder. Jamie McDonnell, whom Haskins outpointed in 2008, is still a major force and super-skilled southpaw. Zolani Tete was recently upgraded to full titleholder by the WBO.
“I don’t think I’d box Tete because I wouldn’t fight anyone who has just been given a title,” said Haskins before laughing at the irony. “No seriously, I don’t think there’s anything for me to chase anymore.
“I’ve accomplished my dream by becoming world champion and now I just want to provide a great living for my kids. We want to keep winning and bringing in the big checks. Everything I do now is for my family. I could retire tomorrow, retire happy, and say I became a world champion. I’ve done everything that I had to do.”
When asked if he was perhaps too content, Haskins was keen to point out that he has worked as hard as ever in the gym and hasn’t lost one ounce of hunger. And when asked why fans should watch the fight on Saturday, his answer was what all fans want to hear.
“Because it’s a 50-50 fight. That’s how highly I rate Burnett,” said Haskins.
Tom Gray is a UK Correspondent/ Editor for RingTV.com and a member of THE RING ratings panel. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing
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