By Matt Winsper



This Friday night, at the Whitchurch Sports Centre in Bristol, England, Commonwealth Flyweight champion Lee Haskins makes his first defence against experienced and highly competent challenger Zolile Mbityi of South Africa.

Haskins, in his last fight, destroyed the normally durable Anthony Mathias in two rounds to win the belt and immediately drew comparisons to England’s former featherweight champion Naseem Hamed. Haskins, his feet wide and his hands low, shimmied and swayed from side to side as Mathias punched thin air. Suddenly, the little Bristolian would leap into action, bouncing corkscrew uppercuts and flying hooks off the Tanzanian’s head from an assortment of unorthodox angles.

Mathias went down in the opening round, and had to use all his experience and resilience to get to the first bell. In the second, Haskins jumped on him to finish him off and claim his first belt.

With the performance, Haskins went from being yet another Naz clone with wins over the usual journeymen to a  potential world contender with the skills and power to move to championship class successfully. In Zolile Mbityi, however, Haskins finds himself an opponent who will give the 22yr old youngster a real test.

Mbityi, 27-11-3 (10) coming in, may be on the downside of a 16yr career, but he is tough, clever and has been in with some of the world’s best little men over the last decade and a half. Haskins, on Friday night, will be able to try out all his new-found skills and his potentially awesome punching power on a real quality pro.

And whilst Mbitiyi has had patchy form of late, one of his most recent wins was over Zolani Pethelo, who was a long-time IBF Strawweight titlist, and was also the final opponent of Mexican legend Ricardo Lopez. Pethelo was good enough to go 8 hard rounds with Lopez before capitulating suddenly. That Mbitiyi was able to win a majority decision over the little former champion whilst 35 years of age has to be a good sign that he will provide Haskins with a solid test.

However, Haskins really has looked fast and flashy in recent outings. There are obviously still a few little novice-like flaws, as the quick southpaw has had only 14 fights (all wins, 9 ko’s). After putting Mathias on the canvas in the opener, Haskins rushed himself a little, getting too close to his hurt opponent and cuffing his punches a little with his chin in the air. 

As the Englishman progresses, world-renowned trainer Chris Sanigar will no doubt tighten up these minor niggles until Haskins develops into a real world class flyweight.

It will be interesting, also, to see how Haskins fares over the twelve round distance. Mbityi has only been stopped twice in recent years, and both times by world class foes. Firstly, Alberto Jiminez took him out in two rounds back in 1995, and then recent bantamweight title challenger Silence Mabuza stopped in him in 4 rounds three years ago. Both losses are obviously not to be held against him. Some of Mbitiyi’s other losses have been to quality opponents like Damaen Kelly (a highly skilled former IBF title challenger), Simon Ramoni (an experienced boxer-puncher who has fought as high as super-bantamweight) and Brahim Asloum (who recently challenged for the WBA crown).

If world-class foes like Kelly and Asloum were unable to stop the tough African, it will speak volumes about Haskins’ ability and power if he can chalk up an inside-schedule win this Friday. More likely is that he hurts Mbitiyi early, but the challenger is able to use his experience to weather the storm and ask a few questions of his young foe.

The show is televised live on Sky Sports across the UK.

The Pick:
“Haskins is a fast starter, and will probably come out flashing his southpaw punches around Mbityi’s head. The African may even take a count or two. However, he is an experienced and knowledgeable opponent, and will fiddle his way out of danger. By the later rounds, he may even be tagging Haskins with the odd shot, and the little Bristolian will have to work hard to control the fight, winning a unanimous decision, but learning plenty on the way from a tough old pro” Haskins by unanimous decision.