Q&A with the reigning IBF world bantamweight champion, Lee Haskins
By Ian Aldous: Last year was a fantastic year for 118lbs IBF kingpin, Lee Haskins (34-3). He successfully defended his world championship on two occasions after claiming the title on the scales in Las Vegas at the end of 2015. It was the culmination of a long road for the Bristol-born veteran of British boxing. Last week I spoke with Lee over the phone to talk about his journey since I last chatted with him over four years ago.
IA: Last time I spoke with you in 2012, you were on a high after winning the European bantamweight title. In your first defence you went to Belgium and lost the belt to Stephane Jamoye in a war. At that point, how far away did a world title seem to you?
LH: To be fair, it was a big setback because it was one (fight) I was confident I was going to win. I just made a few mistakes during the build-up, the training (going) into the fight and I learnt from that. I did think that my world title ambitions were a long way from that fight. I had to rebuild myself and I did that.
IA: You mention ‘rebuild’ and that really was the key word, you went back and won the British title before reclaiming the European title. Then the big opportunity came against Ryosuke Iwasa for the vacant interim IBF bantamweight strap (sixth-round TKO win). Was that the best performance of your long career?
LH: Yeah, I would say so. I was so determined to win that belt. I was going to do everything in my power to get it and I went into that ring with that mentality.
IA: Then came the world title fight with Randy Caballero that didn’t happen. You claimed the championship on the scales after he failed to make weight. How did it feel winning the gold without actually competing for it and going through all the training and build-up?
LH: That’s every boxer’s worst nightmare to get into that position, especially for a fight in Vegas, every fighter dreams of that. To miss out on that and not get to fight in Vegas was a massive disappointment.
IA: Were you awarded the title there and then? And was a catch-weight bout suggested?
LH: I don’t think I’d have won the title I don’t think. If I’d have took the (catch-weight fight) I wouldn’t have become world champion. He was like five and a half pounds over the weight. You know, by the next day he’s going to be huge, it was just a stupid thing to do.
IA: Like I said before, you’d been through all the training, were you suitably compensated for the disappointment of not being able to fight that night on the Miguel Cotto/ Canelo Alvarez undercard?
LH: Yeah, Golden Boy (promotions) looked after us, compensated us well. It wasn’t a total loss. We were looked after by them, so we were happy. I came away with the title and I’ve had two successful defences.
IA: Your first defence came against Ivan Morales (brother of the legendary Erik Morales). Was that the moment you truly felt like a world champion after the anti-climax of the Randy Caballero debacle?
LH: You know I felt like a champion when I beat Iwasa. Randy Caballero was out of the picture because he was injured and a lot of people didn’t think he was going to come back from that or not at that weight anyway. It wasn’t a fight that we picked out, it was ordered by the IBF and if Caballero wasn’t about in the first place it would have been me and Iwasa to fight for it (the full IBF world title) anyway.
IA: In your last fight you once again defeated old rival, Stuart Hall, on the GGG/Kell Brook undercard. It was a competent defensive display from you, yet fans booed the unanimous decision. Do you think it was harsh for the fans to have reacted that way towards you?
LH: I take everything with a pinch of salt, it don’t really bother me. Obviously there was a lot of Northern fans (supporting Hall) up there so I understand that.
IA: You were scheduled to defend your title on December 31st in Japan against Shohei Omori. How did you pick up the leg injury and are you back to 100% now?
LH: Yeah, I’m back to 100% now. I’ve had a few injuries for a little while during my camp for Stuart Hall, we were talking about pulling out of that fight at one point but it was just too good of an opportunity to pull out, so we went through with it. Then the plan was after that to take all Christmas off, rest, heal up and then be ready for another defence. But the Japanese came up with an offer and it was earlier than we expected and we decided to do it. As I trained for it the injuries were still there because I didn’t give it enough time to rest, so we had no choice but to pull out.
IA: Do you think that’s a fight that can happen again or is there something else in the pipeline for you?
LH: The number one fighter I would like to box would be Jamie McDonnell. I think it would be a great fight, I’m a champion, and he’s a champion. Or Paul Butler, I know he’s talking about boxing me and that’s another fight I would love to get. I want to box in Britain, you know. I don’t want to go travel the world – I love to fight in Britain. If I lose, I would like to lose my belt in Britain, you know (laughs).
IA: Are you still happy making the bantamweight limit?
LH: It’s one of the hardest parts of the job, but I’m making the weight at the moment. I think I would like a couple more fights at this weight then we’ll see about going up. If I was to go up, I don’t think I’d go up one division, I would go straight up two divisions.