Lee Haskins vs Ryan Burnett: Belfast's young hopeful favoured to take first world title

The local hero Burnett must overcome a seasoned professional in Haskins to take the belt

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Championship boxing returns to Belfast tonight on Sky Sports as veteran IBF bantamweight champion Lee Haskins defends his world title against young prospect Ryan Burnett. Haskins is conceding home advantage by fighting in Northern Ireland, but the wily 33-year-old has specialised in away successes throughout his career.

It took Haskins 12 years of professional fighting to finally become a world champion, and the Bristolian formally became IBF champion in late 2015 when proposed opponent and former belt-holder Randy Caballero failed to make weight for their scheduled bout. Haskins recovered from the semi-disappointment of not winning his title in the ring by making successful defences against Ivan Morales and most recently, Stuart Hall.

For many years, Haskins seemed to be the forgotten man of British boxing. Despite holding victories over former and current world champions in Jamie McDonnell and Stuart Hall, his inactivity and Marmite boxing style failed to translate into significant mainstream appeal. Amid a sea of British brawlers and sluggers, Haskins is a stylist boxer who traditionally incorporates a safety first approach.

While this technique has enabled an effective career and just one defeat over the past decade, it’s also the reason that he’s fighting in Belfast tonight rather than Bristol. But in a slightly masochistic way, perhaps that’s the way he likes it. He beat Ross Burkinshaw in Sunderland, Jamie McDonnell in Yorkshire and Ryan Farrag in Liverpool, and is firmly predicting another victory tonight.

“It's going to be a hostile crowd but truthfully it doesn't bother me,” he told BBC Sport. “I've boxed away time and time again so I know what's coming.

“I've boxed in Monaco, Belgium and Morocco and in plenty of backyards in the UK. It doesn't bother me - a ring is a ring. I hope the Belfast fans don't give me too much of a hard time!”

By contrast to Haskins, his opponent has quickly established a reputation as an exciting talent. 25-year-old Ryan Burnett is 16-0 as a professional, and the current British bantamweight champion has already showed a wide range of styles inside the ring.

Burnett won nine of his first 11 fights by stoppage leading many to believe that he was one of the heaviest hitting fighters in the division, but as the quality of his opposition has increased, the early finishes have halted. All of his last five fights have gone the distance, as a more cerebral Burnett has appeared.

The slight tweak in style has been incorporated following the addition of Adam Booth as his chief trainer, and the man who introduced David Haye and George Groves into the world of boxing is hoping his new star can become another world champion. 

“Under Adam Booth, you can see that Burnett has now got patience and he can break fighters when he’s sticking to a game plan,” said boxing trainer Dave Coldwell, and there is a consensus within the sport that despite the gulf in experience between the two fighters, the younger and fresher Burnett has the capabilities to win the fight in some style.

“Every single night when I'm lying in bed I'm thinking about the belt, about winning, how I'm doing it, how it's going to feel. I've thought about it over and over, seen it clearly over and over. To win I'm going to have to be at my very, very best. I know exactly the man standing in front of me on the night,” Burnett told BBC Sport.

The bookmakers also believe that Burnett is going to succeed, pricing the contender as a 1/3 favourite. Haskins is a 3/1 underdog, but if you really can’t pick between the two, value could be in the 8/15 for the fight to go the distance considering the lack of firepower both men have.

There are slim pickings to enjoy on the undercard, but keep an eye on Paul Hyland Jr vs Adam Dingsdale and the return of Mike Perez at cruiserweight.