Ryan Burnett became Northern Ireland’s first world bantamweight champion for 20 years after outclassing Lee Haskins Saturday, but he had to settle for a baffling split points decision.
It should have been a unanimous verdict, such was 25-year-old Burnett’s domination as he won the IBF world bantamweight title in his 17th professional fight at the SSE Arena in his home city of Belfast.
Despite Burnett flooring Haskins twice and controlling the bout from start to finish, American judge Clark Sammartino incredibly contrived to return a score of 118-108 to Haskins, meaning Burnett had to be content with a split decision with the other judges both seeing it 119-107 and 119-107 in his favour.
But this was not a close contest and Robert Smith, the British Boxing Board of Control secretary, was scathing in his criticism of Sammartino after the fight.
“He [Clark Sammartino] will not be coming back to this country and I will be telling the IBF that on Monday,” said Robert Smith, the British Boxing Board of Control secretary after the fight.
“There was only one winner. It was a good fight and it kind of ruins it. It was the wrong decision.”
Both were cut from a clash of heads in the second round but Burnett (17-0, 9 KOs) kept his composure. The Belfast boxer was too quick and sharp for Haskins, who was floored in the sixth and 11th rounds by right hands.
Burnett is Northern Ireland’s first world bantamweight champion since Wayne McCullough’s two-year reign as WBC king ended in defeat to Daniel Zaragoza in January 1997.
“I promised my dad when I was 11 that I would be world champ and tonight I have done it,” said Burnett.
It was an impressive showing from Burnett, who enjoyed the backing of a big, raucous crowd against 33-year-old Haskins (34-4, 14 KOs).
Burnett, who trains in London with coach Adam Booth, was boxing in Belfast for the first time since 2013 and for only the third time as a professional. He seemed inspired by the chance to show his home fans how he has developed and in the first round his feints and quick movements caused problems for Haskins from the opening bell.
Burnett’s control was briefly interrupted by an accidental clash of heads early in the second round which left both boxers cut above the right eye. Burnett came off worse, with a long gash down his forehead and his face was reduced to a mask of blood for the rest of the round.
Burnett’s corner stemmed the flow of blood and the Ulsterman then resumed his brisk work in the third round. Haskins, a switch hitter from Bristol in England, struggled to find any solutions to Burnett’s fast attacks as well as his swift movements in avoiding shots on the counter.
Burnett dominated the fourth and Haskins ended the round looking disconsolate with a bloodied face. Worse was to come for the champion late in the sixth round when Haskins was caught by a right hook on the ropes and sank to a knee for a count.
Haskins recovered but injured his right arm shortly before being dropped and his hopes of retaining the title were becoming increasingly remote. Haskins admirably tried to trouble Burnett with some tidy shots, all from his left hand, but still ended the ninth round with his face covered in blood.
Haskins tumbled backwards to the canvas after being caught by another lead right hand in the 11th, by which time he was fighting a lost cause.
On the undercard, Ireland-based Cuban Mike Perez made a successful debut as a cruiserweight but it was a disappointingly short cameo performance against Viktor Biscak — lasting all of 29 seconds.
Perez (21-2-1, 13 KOs), 31, is based in Cork and is looking to kick start his career after defeats to Bryant Jennings and Alexander Povetkin dashed his hopes of a world heavyweight title shot.
In his first fight in two years since being blasted out in 91 seconds by Povetkin, Perez looked impressively well cut and lean after losing at least 40 pounds to make cruiserweight. Slovakian Biscak (10-1, 7 KOs), 32, folded under the first punch Perez landed, a right hook to the temple.
“I still have the power I believe,” said Perez. “It’s been an interesting two years of my life and I decide to do something better.
“My weight started going down and we decided to give cruiserweight a go. I want to keep active. I’m a heavyweight too. With the start of mind I have now, I believe I can win a title in any weight.”