By Cliff Rold
Boxing fans looking for their fix this weekend in the US might see slim pickings one week out from the Andre Ward-Sergey Kovalev rematch. It depends what they have in their cable package.
For fans with access to the AWE network (Saturday, 3 PM EST/12 PM PST), there is a full afternoon of fights on tap. AWE has made a home for British boxing cards on US airwaves the last couple years. At first, it seemed to be just cards with particular cache in the States. This year, we seem to be getting a wider range.
Along with bigger fights like Tony Bellew-David Haye and Julius Indongo-Ricky Burns, we’ve also had Khalid Yafai’s first title defense at 115 and now this bantamweight scrap.
The good thing about the AWE shows isn’t the main event action. These are lengthy shows with deep undercard viewing. Sometimes lasting over four hours, it’s boxing for the true boxing junkie.
The headliner this weekend should be fun. The UK’s Lee Haskins (34-3, 14 KO) is making his third defense of the IBF 118 lb. belt and his first appearance of 2017. Haskins has won eight in a row since a stoppage defeat to Stephane Jamoye in 2012. His last fight, against regional rival and former IBF titlist Stuart Hall was a solid win. At 33, Haskins may never be make a large global impression but that’s okay.
He’s found his groove and niche and is making a living with a belt around his waist. In the lower ceiling economic reality of the lower weight classes, it’s more than most get to do.
Haskins is on the road this time against a hungry 25-year old Ryan Burnett (16-0, 9 KO). Burnett, of Northern Ireland, is where Carl Frampton proved his ability in the ring and as a draw before moving onto bigger stages. Burnett can hope to carve a similar path starting this weekend.
He has a good shot. Burnett is a clever boxer, adept as a counter puncher off the back foot and comfortable switching stances with a good body attack. Haskins, a southpaw, often leaves his chin high but he’s a good reactive fighter, waiting for opponents to show him openings and landing suddenly.
It might not be a fight of the year, but it should be a hard battle with crowd atmosphere.
That’s more than enough value for a Saturday afternoon. The value beyond is what makes this fun. What the AWE cards are doing is offering at least some chance of expanding what fans might think they might see. Haskins, Burnett, and a few weeks back Yafai, are all the sort of fighters who could fit in nicely with the crowd of fighters garnering attention on HBO led by Roman Gonzalez.
This is a chance to see them without YouTube.
In another era, we might not have seen a Gonzalez or a few years ago Anselmo Moreno without the platform availability we have today. In the 1990s, we never saw Michael Carbajal or Humberto Gonzalez against Myung Woo-Yuh. It feels like this era has more potential to deliver fights like that because there is more access to see prominent overseas talents on a semi-regular basis than there used to be.
That’s a healthy thing for the sport but requires eyeballs to make the investment for a network like AWE worthwhile. So tune in if the time allows if for no other reason than it wasn’t an option not too long ago.
More boxing, from more places, can’t be a bad thing.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org