Preview: High stakes for Haskins against Mexican Morales

Preview: High stakes for Haskins against Mexican Morales

World championship boxing will return to Wales with Bristol’s bantamweight Lee ‘Playboy’ Haskins (32-3, 13KO) making the first defence of his IBF belt against Mexico’s Ivan Morales (29-1, 17KO).

For someone who has spent so long out of the limelight, Haskins has a golden opportunity to establish himself as the most known bantamweight attraction in Britain with the platform of terrestrial television on Channel 5.

Lee Haskins Barry McGuiganThe southpaw has sometimes been shunned for his nullifying style but matched with an aggressive opponent – just like a typical Mexican – Haskins’ slippery counter-punching can excite. It’s a theory that was proved in his last outing when Japan’s bigger Ryosuke Iwasa was made to pay for being too willing and rashly giving up a height advantage.

That night, Haskins collected the IBF Interim strap with a sixth round stoppage while full-belt holder Randy Caballero was recovering from an Achilles injury. They were set to meet in November in Las Vegas but when Caballero weighed in as a featherweight, manager Jamie Sanigar rightfully stepped in to cancel the contest.

Caballero’s miscalculation robbed Haskins of his moment, a defining night under the lights of Sin City. The 32-year-old would be within his rights to be bitter, though he’s just seemed genuinely happy to be installed as champion of the world after a rollercoaster 13-year career. It will be a mistake if he boxes with a point to prove and Haskins should be too wise to would play in to Morales’ hands.

Despite sneakily punching pads and shadows at Wednesday’s open workouts in the orthodox stance, Morales has fought his whole career as a southpaw. The 24-year-old prefers to come forward and keep opponents at arms length. Morales’ favoured approach helps him step in to his shots – most notably a lead screw or backhand uppercut.

While Morales is the first in his family to fight in Europe, he’s aiming to follow in the footsteps of his siblings by becoming a world champion. The eldest, Erik, is a retired multi-weight legend who beat the likes of Marco Antonio Barrera and Manny Pacquiao, and Diego held a WBO super-flyweight strap. The only trio of brothers to win world titles are Koki, Daiki and Tomoki from Japan.

Ivan MoralesIn Nino Maravilla’s only professional loss [to the unremarkable Edgar Jimenez in 2015], he was outhustled on the inside and that’s not a tactic Haskins is likely to employ. Haskins is likely to allow the visitor to take centre ring, looking to duck and sway out of the way of Morales’ straight shots to return with hurtful counters over the top or around the sides. It should be enough to see the champion remain a step ahead for the 12 rounder’s duration.

It’s unknown whether there will be a Welsh effect on the fight. Haskins, a repeated traveller, will be boxing in the sixth different country of his 35 fights. To signal the intentions of the globetrotting challenger, Golden Boy Promotions’ influential Robert Diaz has made the 5,000-mile commute. However, Morales has fought exclusively in Mexico and the southern parts of USA – a complete culture clash to an ice hockey arena in Cardiff Bay.

There’s no suitable indoor venue in Haskins’ hometown and the British weather isn’t reliable enough for an outdoor occasion. Bristol’s loss is Cardiff’s gain and with a near sell-out expected, Welsh fans have made the most out of a chance to see world championship boxing for the first time since Cefn Fforest’s Nathan Cleverly lost to Sergey Kovalev in 2013.

Craig KennedyThe undercard, which will be broadcast on sister channel Spike TV, is attractive, too. Barry Town’s flyweight Andrew Selby (4-0, 3KO) and Cardiff’s cruiserweight Craig Kennedy (14-0, 8KO) compete for their first titles. The pair are deserved favourites against game visitors Louis Norman (11-1-1, 2KO) for the British and Joel Tambwe Djeko (9-1-1, 4KO) for the IBF International titles, respectively, and will aim to win inside the distance.

Before that, Mountain Ash’s welterweight Tony Dixon (7-0, 2KO) will lock horns with Belfast Paddy Gallagher (9-2, KO), a 2010 Commonwealth Games medalist. The ‘Welsh Terrier’ could gain the vacant Celtic title, most likely on points down the stretch, but must stay disciplined in a genuine 50-50.

Things may be tougher for Cardiff’s brave middleweight Frankie Borg (9-5, 3KO). The always-exciting 35-year-old has his work cut out for him and takes on another testing assignment in Northern Ireland’s fancied Conrad Cummings (8-0-1, 3KO).

The card is completed by what’s meant to be showcases for Cardiff’s light-heavyweight Nathan Thorley (4-0, 2KO) against the Rhondda’s Anthony Trow (1-2), Aberdare’s Morgan Jones (6-0, 2KO), two-weight Celtic champion Mitch Buckland (10-0, 2KO) and Scotland’s special super-lightweight Josh Taylor (4-0, 4KO).

Around 70% of the tickets have been sold at the 3,500 capacity Ice Arena Wales and the remaining tickets are available at the venue or on International Boxing Hall of Fame entrant Barry McGuigan, whose Cyclone Promotions is hosting the event, expects a walk-up crowd to take the remaining allocation tomorrow.

Images by Jamie Sanigar.