Bristol boxer Lee ‘Playboy,’ Haskins (32-3, 14KOs) makes the first defence of his IBF bantamweight world title this weekend against Iván Morales (29-1, 17KOs) at the Ice Arena in Cardiff.
Morales is the younger brother of former four division world champion and Mexican great Erik “El Terrible,” Morales.
Haskins won the title on the scales when the former champion Randy Caballero failed to make weight in their proposed clash in November 2015. Haskins will be keen to prove his mettle on Saturday night in a fight which has the potential to be something of a thriller.
Haskins’ opponent is part of a modern day boxing dynasty headed up by the aforementioned elder brother Erik Morales. It is difficult not to draw similarities between the siblings.
The 24 year old Iván has a similar style to his older brother. He is a tall upright boxer, with a southpaw stance, a good jab and he likes to mix it up to the head and body. He is perhaps not as concussive a puncher as his older brother and despite a high defensive guard he can be caught square and hit easily. There are also question marks over his ability to cope with pressure.
The sole loss on his record was against journeyman Edgar Ramirez in August 2015. It was a fight in which Morales was under the cosh and despite rallying in the second half of the fight he lost a ten round majority decision. It was considered something of an upset at the time but Morales has since bounced back with a stoppage victory proving that one loss does not necessarily make someone a bad fighter.
The matchup presents an interesting clash of styles. The 32 year old Haskins trained by Chris Sanigar is also a southpaw who likes to throw shots from various angles. He has a relaxed, hands down almost Roy Jones Jr-esque style which can sometimes leave him open defensively.
Haskins most recent loss came against the Belgian Stephane Jamoye for the European bantamweight title in December 2012. In that fight Jamoye piled the pressure on Haskins for round after round until he eventually forced a stoppage when a series of body shots halted the Englishman in the eighth round.
If Morales was able to match the intensity and volume of punches thrown by Jamoye that night then the crowd could be witnessing an upset. However Jamoye is a more experienced operator than Morales having mixed in the company of world champions; Scott Quigg, Jamie McDonnell, Tomoki Kameda, Pungluang Sor Singyu, Shinsuke Yamanaka and Leo Santa Cruz. Therefore there is no shame in Haskins having lost to an elite level operator.
The outcome of this fight may just be decided on experience. Haskins must be considered the more accomplished boxer, he is a former British and European bantamweight champion and a British and Commonwealth champion in the super-flyweight and flyweight divisions. He also holds wins over current WBA champion Jamie McDonnell and former IBF champion Stuart Hall.
In contrast, the most recognisable name on Morales record is that of two time world title challenger Luis Maldonado who is currently on a six fight losing streak.
It’s difficult not to favour the champion in this fight, but with the Morales name and reputation on the line the Mexican will be sure to bring his all and it should provide an entertaining spectacle for the fans.
The main event is flanked by some quality fights on the undercard. Former Olympian Andrew Selby (4-0, 3KOs) takes on the more experienced Louis Norman for the vacant British Flyweight title and Cardiff’s own Craig Kennedy (14-0, 8KOs) steps up against Joel Tambwe Djeko (9-1-1, 4 KOs) for the vacant IBF international cruiserweight title.
This event is a co-promotion between Sanigar Events and Barry McGuigan’s Cyclone promotions and it also features Irish middleweight prospect Conrad Cummings (8-0-1, 3KOs) who takes on former Welsh champion Frankie Borg (9-5, 3 KOs). Borg was previously stopped in six rounds by Chris Eubank Jr in November 2013 and will be an interesting test for Cummings.
The undercard will also feature the 2014 Commonwealth Gold medallist Josh “The Tartan Tornado,” Taylor (4-0, 4 KOs) in a contest at super-lightweight.
The full undercard for Haskins v Morales will be televised on Spike, Sky Channel 160 from 7pm on Saturday the 14th May, with coverage of the main event switching to Channel 5 from 10pm.
“I’m living the dream.” -Conrad Cummings
The Irish middleweight prospect talks candidly about his career, horrific diets and explains why he describes George Groves as, ‘a big lump.’
Irish boxing has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years and one of the most promising fighters to emerge from the scene is middleweight prospect; Conrad Cummings. The fighter from Coalisland, Co. Tyrone is managed by former WBA Featherweight champion Barry McGuigan, trained by his son Shane McGuigan and promoted under the Cyclone Promotions banner.
The McGuigans believe that Cummings (8-0-1, 3KOs) has the potential to become a future world champion. However for the amiable Cummings, the road to glory began with the purchase of a certain set of weighing scales.
“I was an anxious, heavy kid when I started boxing at the age of nine, but I just fell in love with it. It allowed me to expel my aggression without getting in trouble for it. I was boxing for a year when my coach Frank Gervin told me, “You’re a great kid, talented but you’re just too heavy, but I promise, if you lose weight you’ll win an All-Ireland.”
Cummings reacted to the criticism with surprising maturity for someone so young. Inspired by the belief of his coach he purchased a set of weighing scales and watched his weight for the next twelve months. By the following year, the young boxer had lost over a stone and won his first title; an All-Ireland Medal in the boy 1 category.
“That’s the sort of person I am,” Cummings admits, “very driven.”
That determination would see the young man from Co. Tyrone become a decorated amateur with a run of schoolboy and national titles at junior level, before representing Ireland at a host of international tournaments culminating in a Gold Medal win, at the age of 18, at the Nations Cup in Vienna in 2009.
“Every time I boxed for Ireland I won Gold, the only time I didn’t was during the Olympic Test Event in 2011. I went to that tournament with a weeks’ notice. I beat the Brazilian Esquiva Florentino [the 2012 Olympic Silver medallist] in the semi-final and then lost to the European champion, Maxim Koptyakov of Russia.”
Cummings rebounded from defeat in the final of the Olympic Test Event to claim a Gold medal at the Tammer Tournament in Finland in 2012. His success in the amateurs gave way to his ambition to one day become a professional world champion. In an effort to showcase his talent on a global stage he became involved in the World Series of Boxing (WSB) in 2013 and signed for the Mexican Guerreros. The non-Spanish speaking fighter would spend over a month in Mexico training at altitude, and he describes the experience as, “life-changing.”
“It gave me invaluable experience,” Cummings admits, “I got the opportunity to box a number of European and World Champions.” The time spent sparring in Mexico earned Cummings the nickname, ‘Mr Dinamita,’ in recognition of his all-action style. The semi-pro nature of the WSB provided an ideal training ground for the young fighter, but the decision to remain as an amateur and compete in the Commonwealth Games in 2014 were dealt a blow when Cyclone Promotions offered Cummings the opportunity to turn pro.
“I was in Dublin airport with the Irish team, on my way back from Finland having just won my Gold Medal. As I was picking up my luggage I got a private twitter message from Barry McGuigan, saying here’s my number and asking me to call him. He could have been looking for anything, but I knew what he was looking for. I thought, my dreams have come true.”
The normally calm and collected Cummings struggled to maintain his composure after he had been contacted by a legend of Irish boxing. “I wanted to tell everyone, but Barry told me to play it cool. I couldn’t, two hours later I gave him a call, and I was just mumbling and not being myself. We must have talked for an hour, he told me he had been watching me since I was 17 and I thought I wasn’t even good at 17! But I knew that day Barry wanted to sign me.”
In February 2014, Cummings turned professional with Cyclone Promotions and he has no regrets about leaving the amateur game behind, “The plan was to go to the Commonwealth Games with the aim of winning the Gold medal and then turn pro. I turned pro six months before the games and my Dad said I should have waited but the deal was already there. I wanted to be a world champion and I already had a great manager and a great team. I had to make the right decision for me.”
In Shane McGuigan, Cummings has secured himself one of the most prominent trainers in the UK and Ireland to spearhead his professional development. Before turning pro he had been invited to train with Shane in his Battersea Gym to determine if they would be compatible. It laid the foundation for a solid professional relationship and Shane McGuigan’s methods have added a new dimension to Cummings craft.
“Shane’s all about trying new things, if it’s not working he’ll try something else. The way the fight game is evolving he believes the fighter should be evolving as well. My training is very intense, it’s not really long but it’s really hard. It’s basically circuit training, weight training, sprinting and very little long distance running. It’s different to my amateur training, but I feel my body is evolving and I’m enjoying it.”
The change in training methods also brought about a change in diet for the young fighter, something that Cummings admits he found difficult to adjust to, “when I first started training with Shane, I thought I had a good diet, but then he put me on a strict diet, it was horrific! Meat, fish and vegetables for two months to get my body fat percentage down. It was a bit of a shock initially but I’m enjoying it now, and I’m very grateful.”
Cummings has also benefited from being part of a stable of high profile fighters that Shane McGuigan currently trains. Cummings regularly rubs shoulders with former WBA heavyweight champion David Haye and the former British and Commonwealth super-middleweight champion George Groves.
“Sparring with George was a wake-up call for me, because I had been thinking, maybe I could be a super-middleweight, but then I saw George and I thought, no, I’m definitely a middleweight. He’s just a big lump, a big strong man and a really good fighter.”
Cummings also enjoys a close relationship with his other stablemate, IBF super-bantamweight champion Carl Frampton, “I have a good friendship with Carl, he’s at the absolute pinnacle of his career at the moment, he unified the world title, he has the best fan base in the UK and Ireland and he doesn’t believe any of his own hype. He’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, a gentleman.”
Frampton’s success as a world champion provides much inspiration for the young fighter from Co. Tyrone, “Carl put the work in to achieve his dreams, there’s no reason why I can’t do the same and win a world title.”
When it comes to working towards the dream of a world title, Cummings is committed to the heavy graft in the gym. Earlier in his professional career he sparred with Frank Buglioni, Andy Lee and the current WBO middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders. Cummings also sparred with the Nick Blackwell the fighter who recently recovered from injuries sustained in a British title defence against Chris Eubank Jr.
Cummings is somewhat reflective on the Blackwell incident, “Nick’s a nice guy, tough and fit as a flea. It was great to see the whole boxing world get behind him, but I learnt from his experience. I used to let people hit my gloves, but look at Blackwell, he didn’t get hurt he didn’t get knocked down but he took too many punches. Now I’ve seen the end result, and it’s a wake-up call for me. Nobody wants to see another fighter hurt in the ring so I hope he makes a full recovery.”
Despite his ring moniker, ‘Mr Dynamite,’ Cummings is keenly aware that as a professional he has a low knockout ratio but he feels that the pubic haven’t seen the best of him yet. “I don’t think the boxing world has seen my true potential. As an amateur I would get in close to opponents and hurt them, that’s how I beat two Olympic Silver Medallist’s.”
He adds, “As a professional Shane wants me to be more polished, use my jab and take a step back, we’re trying to create that distance, put them back with maximum authority and leverage and be a lot more devastating, I’m still learning and I’m still a pressure fighter, but I am more methodical.”
The dedication to his profession and the hunger for a title has seen Cummings career go from strength to strength in the last eighteen months. The sole blemish on his undefeated record was a draw with the undefeated Alfredo Meli for the Celtic middleweight title in November 2015.
The consistently positive Cummings puts the result down to experience, “I learned a lot about myself in that fight. I was top of the bill, in the Waterfront Hall, Belfast and I had jumped from fighting six rounders’ to fighting a ten rounder. I dropped Meli in the first round and I should have won, but I guess I have to learn the hard way, it’s all part of the plan.”
Cummings is also realistic about the possibility of a rematch with Meli seeming unlikely in the future, “I would like the rematch, but they don’t want it. The quote from his manager is that they have other options. So I have to move on, but I feel I would win the rematch.”
Cummings has moved on quickly from the draw with a comprehensive victory over Victor Garcia on the undercard of Frampton v Quigg in February and he has just announced that he will be fighting the former Welsh middleweight champion Frankie Borg in Cardiff in May.
The fight in May is another step up the boxing ladder with the ultimate goal of securing a world title shot. When the opportunity arises he wants to ensure that he has a certain individual in his corner.
“I’d love my Father [Patrick] to be there, even if it’s just with the water bucket. When I was 18, I was in University and there was a risk of boxing going on the back burner, so my father said to me, ‘Son, if you want to leave university, I will support you financially and every which way I can, to stay in boxing.’ My mother looked at him as if he was mad, but he had seen something in me.”
“He supported me financially, mentally and any which way you could imagine and he still does to this day. I owe everything to him.”
In a sport where so many of the young prospects are portrayed as brash upstarts it is refreshing to learn Conrad Cummings is so down-to-earth in nature. He is reflective about his life and career, serious about his ambition and grateful for the support he has received to get him where he is today.
“So many people have supported me since I began boxing a 9 years of age; my first coach Frank Gervin in Clonoe ABC taught me about discipline; then when I moved to Belfast aged 18, Harry Hawkins in Holy Trinity helped me and throughout everything my family have supported me as well. I’m very lucky to be in a good support system, I think it’s important in boxing because so many people don’t have that and they go off the radar. I’m very grateful for what I have because at twenty-four I’m living the dream.”
For the young hungry fighter, the hope is that those dreams of a world title will soon become a reality.