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The next chapter for Lee Haskins

Lee Haskins
Paul Wheeler speaks to former IBF bantamweight champion Lee Haskins, who reflects on his decorated career and looks ahead to a bright future

YOU retired in February with a 36-5 (14) record after your loss to David Oliver Joyce. Were you confident going into that fight or were there any signs during camp that you were nearing the end?

I’ve had a recurring problem with my knee. It first happened just before my previous fight [in October last year]. I popped my knee during training, then I did the same thing later on in camp, about two weeks before the fight. I gave it a rest for a week and then just got on with it and had the fight.

During training for the Joyce fight I kept taping my knee up for support. My punching and fitness wasn’t an issue, but I couldn’t get the sparring in that I needed because I had to avoid fast movements with my knee. Looking back, when it first popped last year I didn’t give it enough rest. Now it just seems to pop on a daily basis. When you’ve got a problem like that, there’s nothing you can really do other than call it a day. I’m currently in the process of rebuilding and rehabilitating it. I’ve been spending half-an-hour every day just doing knee exercises and stretches. I’m going to see how that goes, otherwise I’ll have to have an operation on it.

You were managed by Chris Sanigar for the entirety of your 17 years as a professional. How important a figure has he been in your life?

Chris has always guided me. I first met him when I was about 14 years old. He used to keep an eye on me when I was boxing as an amateur, then I turned over with him at 20. He’s a great man who always looks out for your best interests. He’s been a father figure to me and he’s looked after me through everything. I can’t fault him.

You defeated Jamie McDonnell relatively early on in both of your careers. Of course, you both went on to become world champions. Was a rematch ever close to happening at any point?

I always tried to get the rematch with him. He became a world champion before me, so I wanted to box him to get a crack at the world title. It was the same with Stuart Hall. I beat him, then he went on to win a world title before me. When they were champions, I couldn’t get to within an inch of them, however hard I pushed for those fights. In the end, when I won a world title, Hall came forward to fight and I beat him again, but I never heard anything from McDonnell.

I would’ve loved the rematch with him. It was frustrating to see two guys I’d beaten become world champions before me. You want the sport to be fair. You want everyone to be able to receive the same opportunities. If you’re entitled to something, you should get it. I worked hard and won a lot of belts [English and Commonwealth flyweight; British and Commonwealth super-flyweight; British and European x2 bantamweight]. I deserved my world title shot. It shouldn’t be about who your promoter is. It should be about how good you are as a boxer.

Your losing effort against Stephane Jamoye was one of the best fights of 2012. Although you lost, was it pleasing for you to be involved in such an exciting bout, considering you came under criticism at times due to your unorthodox style?

People criticising my style never really bothered me. People are always going to talk. I wasn’t in the sport to make friends. Listen, if I was winning a fight by staying out of trouble, I wasn’t going to start having a war just for the sake of it. I was fighting to earn money for my family. Winning is winning. Against Jamoye, it became a bit of a war because that’s how the fight went. I didn’t want to lose so I did whatever was necessary to try to win.

Would you say that your victory over Ryosuke Iwasa in your hometown of Bristol was the best night of your career?

Yeah, I really performed well in that one. I put in an incredible amount of work for it and I was on my A game. There were other times before this when I was going out a lot with my friends and I just wasn’t putting 100 per cent in. I didn’t think I was ever going to get my shot at a world title. I started to hate the sport because of the way it was treating me, so that led me to start messing about more.
For the fight with Jamoye in Belgium, after the weigh-in I went into the hotel and ate loads of junk. I remember sitting down in the lobby and my heart was beating like crazy because I’d put so much sugar into my body. I didn’t even realise what I was doing. I didn’t care. Then when it came to the fight, after round three I thought to myself, ‘S**t, I’m so tired.’ It was because of all the junk I’d eaten the previous day. It was different when I got my shot against Iwasa [for the IBF Interim bantamweight title]. For that one I sacrificed and gave up everything to make sure that I performed to the best of my ability. I made sure I was ready to beat him and I did it in style.

Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

After winning the Interim belt, you were due to challenge Randy Caballero for the full IBF title in Las Vegas. It must have been a bittersweet moment when you were awarded the championship after Caballero came in overweight.

It was pretty nuts. I really wanted that fight to go ahead because it was a big fight in Vegas – a dream night. I’ve never liked flying, but I was straight on the plane for that opportunity. I kind of knew something was up when I first saw Caballero arrive. He just didn’t look right. I’d been doing some sparring at the Pound 4 Pound Boxing gym in Vegas, which is where a lot of the Mexicans train. I had three different sparring partners there and I gave them all an absolute whupping. Caballero arrived later than me and he went to the same gym, after I’d already been there. So maybe word got around about my sparring and he didn’t really fancy it. I don’t think there was much between us in weight the night before the weigh-in, but suddenly the next day he’s five-and-a-half pounds overweight. That just doesn’t happen. It was strange.

Even though the Caballero fight never happened, I still felt like I deserved the title anyway because I’d beaten Iwasa and we were the top contenders. Especially when you look at what Iwasa went on to do after I beat him. He stepped up in weight, won a few fights and became the IBF super-bantamweight champion. He showed that he was a true champion. He was better than Caballero, by far.

You lost your title to Ryan Burnett, with a freak injury not helping your cause. What happened?

He caught me with a cracking shot in the sixth round which is when I went down to one knee. The punch gave me pins and needles in my back and down my right arm. It felt like whiplash, which isn’t an uncommon feeling when you’ve been hit. I got up and tried to throw a jab, but I couldn’t lift my right arm. It was like it was numb. I could only lift it up halfway. I couldn’t even get it up high enough to throw a jab. It wasn’t painful. It was a weird sensation – like a dead arm. If you watch the fight from that point in the sixth round until the end of the 12th, you can see me laughing to myself at times, just thinking, ‘What’s going on?! I can’t even lift my arm up!’

When I went to hospital afterwards, they found out that two of the discs in my spine were slightly out and were resting on a nerve leading to my right arm. So that was what was causing the issue.

You must have been very proud to box on the same show as your son, Anton Haskins, in what turned out to be the penultimate appearance of your career.

It was incredible – one of my best days in boxing. It’s up there with winning my world title. Even though the problem with my knee had just happened, I had to box on that show. I was going to fight no matter what. I wasn’t going to miss out on boxing on the same show as my son, who was making his pro debut. I absolutely loved it.

What is Anton like as a boxer?

Well he’s a southpaw like me. There are glimpses of me in him but he’s much more confident. He loves to box and fight and he’s a bit of a showman. He can dig, too. I’m really looking forward to seeing him progress. He’s been boxing since he was two years old, so he lives and breathes the sport. I’ve never forced him into it. It’s just what he wants to do. He’s never had a drink in his life and that’s completely his own choice. He’s won two out of two so far – both great performances. He wasn’t nervous in either fight. He did everything absolutely perfectly.

Anton’s my eldest son at 20. I’ve also got a 17-year-old daughter, Nadine, and two other sons – Acelee, who’s nine, and Miami, who’s only a few weeks old! So there’s a lot to keep both me and my wife Claire busy!

Will you be Anton’s full-time trainer now that you have retired from the ring?

That’s right. I’m working on opening up a gym in Bristol, which I should have sorted in a couple of months. I want to bring a few up-and-coming boxers in and train my own world champions, especially my son. Anton’s the main reason that I’m getting into training in the first place. I’ve got so much knowledge of the sport and some of the things that I do in the gym are very unique. It’ll be good to see how it all goes.

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