This Saturday at the Ice Arena in Cardiff, Wales, live on Channel 5 in the United Kingdom, Lee Haskins makes the first defense of his IBF bantamweight title against Mexico's Ivan Morales.
Here's a look at both fighters and the matchup.
Lee Haskins vs Ivan Morales
Record: 32-3 (14 KO) ... Streak: W6 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 9-1 ... Stance: Southpaw ...Height/Reach: 5'5" / 66" ...Age: 32
Thoughts: Lee Haskins is IBF bantamweight champion because Randy Caballero couldn't make weight for their scheduled bout last November, when they were supposed to meet on the Canelo-Cotto card. That's the reality of the situation. That's why Haskins is "world champion."
But that's not Lee Haskins' fault. He showed up. He made weight. Caballero didn't. And instead of negotiating to keep the fight on, Haskins' team made the professional decision to go home with the IBF belt. And it's not as if Haskins hadn't fought his way into that bout, either. He won the interim title against Ryosuke Iwasa via sixth round TKO in June 2015, which was an actual fitting interim title fight, with Caballero at that time on the shelf with an injury.
Haskins is also a former European (two times) and British banamweight champion, a former British and Commonwealth super flyweight champion, and a former Commonwealth flyweight champion. He's a good fighter who has had a successful pro career in three weight classes, and been a consistent performer at that level for a decade.
But is he elite? No, not quite, even though he is top 10 at 118 pounds right now. (I had him No. 8 in the division at the end of 2015, for whatever that's worth.) He is on a roll, though, winning six straight after a loss to Stephane Jamoye in 2012. It's worth noting that every time he's lost, he's been stopped, though one of those times was due to an arm injury.
On paper, Haskins has a lot of advantages here, but the biggest one is experience. He's been in the ring with a lot of solid fighters in the last 13 years, since he turned pro, and has beaten most of them. Does Morales present him with anything he hasn't seen or been able to handle? That's the question, and it's not answerable until fight night.
Record: 29-1 (17 KO) ... Streak: W1 ... Last 5: 4-1 ... Last 10: 9-1 ... Stance: Southpaw ...Height/Reach: 5'7" / 70" ...Age: 24
Thoughts: The younger brother of the great Erik Morales, born when "El Terrible" was 15 years old and a mere year and a half away from his pro boxing debut, Ivan Morales is getting his first crack at a world title, just nine months after a stunning upset loss to journeyman Edgar Jimenez in Cancun, Mexico.
Morales, nicknamed "Niño Maravilla," is a little bit smaller than his big brother, and turned pro as a super flyweight, two classes below where Erik started. All went very well for a while as Ivan embarked on his journey to become the third Morales brother, along with Erik and Diego, to win a world title. In 2012, he defeated veteran Luis Maldonado, and the next year topped Raul Hidalgo, a tough scrapper. These were solid wins for Morales' level. In 2014, he beat former 108-pound interim titleholder Cesar Canchila, which was his most notable win to date.
But last August, he just flat-out got beaten by Jimenez, losing a 10-round majority decision, just as he appeared on the doorstep of a world title opportunity. Since boxing is boxing, it turns out he simply remained on the doorstep, as an opportunity has presented itself against Haskins.
It's hard to say that Morales is more talented than Lee Haskins, who is a solid boxer and has beaten the superior opposition. Haskins has experience on his side, home turf on his side (he's not from Wales, but Morales really isn't from Wales), and he will certainly be there to give his all in his first world title defense. If a club fighter like Edgar Jimenez can outpoint Morales over 10 rounds, there is nothing stopping Haskins from doing so over 12.
That said, Morales was a hyped prospect for a reason, even beyond his last name and his connection to Erik and Diego. He's a talented young fighter, still maturing, and it's possible that the loss may have been a blessing in disguise, a bit of a wake-up call, and something he can learn from going forward.
Matchup Grade: C+. It's not a bad fight, but it's somewhat ridiculous as a world title fight, pitting a middle of the pack veteran who was awarded his belt because someone didn't make weight -- which, again, is not Haskins' fault, but it is what it is -- against a prospect who just tripped up two fights ago. Is the fight worth checking out? Sure. But there's a chance there won't be a whole lot to see here, and for whatever it's worth, BoxRec have Morales ranked 74th in the world at bantamweight. That's the level of competition he's had in his career.