LEE HASKINS looks almost lost as he sits on the stage inside Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay. He can’t quite believe what is happening. He glances to his left and he can see Oscar De La Hoya addressing the bustling media. Haskins is startled as Bernard Hopkins grabs his shoulder and poses for a picture alongside him. Behind them is a sprawling poster of Cotto vs Canelo, and in two days, the Bristol bantamweight will challenge for the IBF title – against unbeaten Randy Caballero – on the undercard. Haskins looks around again and, smiling briefly, attempts to take it all in.
“It’s so hard,” Haskins tells Boxing News about the surrealism of the occasion. “When you’re actually in the build-up to a fight it’s so unreal. It just feels like it’s not real. When I’m back in England and I sit down I might think, ‘Wow, I’ve done all that?’ It will be major but at the moment, it just ain’t real.”
Haskins has come a long way. Gone are the days when he would not train properly, and cheat his natural gifts out of the chance to perform. It’s nine years since Tshifhiwa Munyai hammered him into defeat in six rounds, and eight since Ian Napa took a round longer to repeat the feat. With just over one week to go before he turns 32, the two-weight British champion admits there were times when he considered packing it in.
“I’ve come to that point in my career a lot,” Haskins admits. “It’s been up and down. I never knew what was coming for me. But the thing is I’m an unpredictable guy; sometimes I’ll try and steal the fight, sometimes I’ll turn up and want to fight, and I’m that kind of guy. Back in the day I never used to train properly and it was bad preparation by myself and that will transfer into the ring. If you don’t put it in in the gym then it definitely won’t work in the ring.”
Despite the gargantuan scale of Saturday’s event, Haskins’ quest for a world title has not attracted much attention. He will open the TV broadcast on Saturday – which can be seen in the UK BoxNation – at 4.15pm local time, far down the bill and before the majority of fans are in attendance. The 31-year-old insists his “speed, footwork and power” have the beating of Caballero but back in Britain, fans seem more interested in Martin Murray’s shot at Arthur Abraham in Germany, or Anthony Crolla’s return with Darleys Perez, than they are in Haskins’ remarkable bid for glory.
“To be fair, I like that,” Haskins says earnestly. “It’s okay that people don’t always watch me, or support me, it doesn’t bother me. I do this sport for me and my family. Everything I do, I do for them. I’m happy to be under the radar as long as I’m picking up money and I’m winning titles.”
His family sit beside him – wife Claire and children Nadine, Acelee and Anton – and the fighter insisted that they were with him. Certainly their presence brings some much needed reality to Haskins’ world here in Sin City.
“I feel absolutely amazing,” he says, as if everything, the world title, the occasion, has suddenly dawned on him at that moment. “The opportunity I’ve had is crazy so I’m going to do everything in my power to win this fight and bring the title back to the UK. It could change my life if I win this fight. I could maybe have some big fights back in the UK. It’s life-changing to win something like this, especially with the magnitude of the show that I’m on.”