Ryan Burnett has won the IBF bantamweight title after producing a masterclass to defeat defending champion Lee Haskins via a farcical split decision.
The Northern Irishman, whose victory also justifies his billing as the long-term successor to Carl Frampton, responded to the significant increase in class with the finest performance and win of his promising career. The only blemish at Belfast’s Odyssey Arena came when American judge Clark Sammartino inexplicably scored for Haskins.
Maintaining a consistent sharpness and work-rate, Burnett convincingly outboxed the proven 33-year-old, succeeding throughout with both the jab and right hand.
Concerns had existed that in Bristol’s Haskins, a fighter as awkward as he has been under-appreciated, he had agreed to a thankless match-up too soon. He instead ensured an unexpectedly entertaining affair by largely dictating the range and pace of the fight from the opening round.
An accidental clash of heads in the second cut each fighter over the right eye, prompting further questions about the Haskins’ greater experience, but Burnett, 25, instead used his speed and accuracy to impose himself.
A classy right hand at the start of the fourth round hurt the defending champion, and as the challenger’s timing and confidence improved, and he defended himself with his instinctive head movement, he built a comfortable lead.
Another big right in the sixth sent Haskins to the canvas, and left him vulnerable to a stoppage as he over-reached with punches, but it took until the 10th before he again appeared at risk.
Burnett landed with further right hands, snapping back Haskins’ head, and then after taking a left in the 11th, he responded with an assault to the body and a left-right combination that sent Haskins down again.
When he returned to his feet, the aggressive Burnett sought the knockout victory he was only denied by the round’s end when the champion was left defenceless by the ropes.
Thirty-two years on from Belfast favourite Barry McGuigan winning his world title against Eusebio Pedroza, he then saw out the victory as the judges confirmed him a 119-107, 108-118, 119-107 winner. In doing so he also emulated Wayne McCullough, another world bantamweight from the city, in taking world honours in his 17th professional fight.
There was earlier a victory for Cuba’s talented Mike Perez, 31, who after over two years’ inactivity, following a stoppage defeat by Alexander Povetkin at heavyweight, returned at cruiserweight to defeat Slovakia’s little-known Viktor Biscak in only 29 seconds. Barely a punch had been exchanged when the out-of-shape, late replacement Biscak lost his balance amid an apparent leg injury that left him unable to continue.
Luke Watkins also won the vacant Irish cruiserweight title, convincingly stopping Ian Tims in the fourth round following a big right hand.