It's amazing to think that during the history of boxing no Japanese fighter has ever won a world title in Europe. That may change however on June 13th as the once beaten Ryosuke "Eagle Eye" Iwasa (19-1, 12) travels to England to take on the talented and tricky Lee Haskins (31-3, 13) in a contest for the IBF “interim” title, a title that Iwasa's handler believes will be upgraded to the IBF regular title later in the year.
Firstly, as many will know, we are typically critical of the “interim” title fiasco that the WBA have on their hands. However the IBF rarely hold “interim” title fights and they are limited to when a champion is injured. In this case their “proper” champion, Randy Caballero, is indeed injured and isn't expected back in to the ring for several months. Rather than freezing up the title the IBF have elected for their two top ranked contenders to meet in what is a genuinely appealing match up.
Of the two fighters Haskins is, by far, the more experienced man. He has been a professional since 2003 and already holds a number of notable wins, including decision victories over Jamie McDonnell, Stuart Hall and Jason Booth. Sadly for Haskins however he has had a number of issues including a style that has helped keep him away from British TV for swathes of his career and issues with durability, with all 3 of his losses coming by stoppage.
Early in his career Haskins looked brilliant and quickly raced out to 15-0 (9). He showed off impressive speed, lovely countering ability and a style that saw him fighting with hands down and switching stances. That perfect record was ended in his 16th bout as he was stopped by the under-rated Tshifhiwa Munyai. Just 2 fights later Haskins suffered his second set back, courtesy of an injury against the talented but light hitting Ian Napa.
Since falling to 16-2 Haskins has gone on an excellent 16-1 run scoring notable wins against Jamie McDonnell, Stuart Hall and Jason Booth. His sole loss during that 17 fight run came against Stephane Jamoye, in what was a contender for 2012's FOTY. Of course we know Jamoye's limitations, given his loss to Shinsuke Yamanaka, but Jamoye managed to impose his style on the fight and Haskins had to fight fire with fire.
Aged 31 and stood at 5'5” Haskins typically fights as a southpaw though has shown the ability to switch hit. At his best he's an elusive and tricky type of fighter who controls distance well and uses a sharp jab to keep opponents at range. Up close Haskins can go to war and has fast hands though on the whole he is happy to fight on the outside and tie up on the upside. When he's forced to take the fight to an opponent he can struggle but most opponents are unable to really force Haskins out of his safety zone.
At 25 years old Iwasa is significantly younger than his foe though in many ways lacks the experience of Haskins. He has been a professional since 2008 and lacks a genuine stand out win. He does however have some notable wins over the likes of Kentaro Masuda and David De La Mora. His most notable bout to date however was a loss, to the tremendous Shinsuke Yamanaka back in 2011. The step up to fight Yamanaka was too much too soon for Yamanaka though he managed to acquit himself well before being stopped very late in the bout.
Although Iwasa isn't a hugely experienced fighter as a professional he was a very accomplished amateur with a record of 60-6 (42) in the unpaid ranks. Those amateur credentials have been part of the reason that Iwasa has been fast tracked and has already claimed the Japanese and OPBF titles in his short career.
As a Bantamweight Iwasa is a relatively large fighter stood at 5'7” and physically he matched up with Shinsuke Yamanaka very well. At the time of that bout Iwasa lacked the experience though showed that he had the power and ability to really trouble Yamanaka.
In the ring Iwasa is a talented southpaw boxer-puncher. He hits harder than his record suggests, as seen by the fact he troubled Yamanaka, though at times he's reckless and can be tagged himself. When boxing smartly Iwasa is very sharp though he can be put under pressure, as Richard Pumicpic showed. Whilst Iwasa put the performance against Pumicpic down to weight issues it's fair to suggest that those issues may rear their head again in the future.
Coming in to this fight it really seems like a case of the man who can enforce his style will come out on top. It's a question as to whether or not Haskins will be able to keep Iwasa at arm's length or whether the Japanese fight can get his range and land his heavy shots with the left hand. We know Haskins has scouted the left hand but there is a lot of difference between know it's a weapon and being able to prevent it from being used. If Haskins can keep his movement up and make the most of his jab the odds are that he takes a decision at home in Bristol. If Iwasa can make it a fire-fight however we see the Japanese fighter stopping the home favourite and bringing back the title, doing what others, such as Hidenori Otake and Akio Shibata, were unable to do.
It's a compelling match up of styles and a really good match up on paper, we just hope it doesn't end up having some sort of controversy hanging over the result.
World Title Previews
The biggest fights get broken down as we try to predict who will come out on top in the up coming world title bouts.