Canadian collision course

By Dave Spencer
Photos: Herby Whyne

Undefeated Canadian rivals Baha Laham (10-0-1) and Tyler Asselstine (12-0) take centre stage this Friday as the co-feature for the GYM promoted Fast and Furious card at the Bell Centre in Montreal and broadcast live on ESPN Friday Night Fights. Asselstine was originally to have met Joel Diaz who pulled out with an injury late last week. Enter Laham who was in preparation for a fight on February 16, the same card actually that Asselstine was originally supposed to be featured on.

FightNews had the opportunity to talk to both fighters in advance of this all important match-up.

Tyler Asselstine

FightNews: It's been quite the roller coaster of opponents for you with the latest change of Joel Diaz pulling out due to injury, how has it been for you?

Asselstine: Either way we've been training very very hard for a top opponent and a tough fight. Diaz was a good mix of a pressure fighter and boxer; Baha seems more of a pressure fighter and I’ve gotten sparring from both pressure fighters and boxers so I feel well prepared.

FightNews: Does it help raise the bar any given the fact that Baha is Canadian and is just as well known in Canadian boxing circles as yourself?

Asselstine: It makes it more exciting for me and for both of us. He’s from Montreal and I fight in Montreal. It’s going to end all the discussions of who’s better than who. Is Baha better than me, am I better than Baha, this is going to end all that chirping.

FightNews: Have you guys had any sort of personal relationship with each other?

Asselstine: Every time we see each other we say hi. I consider him somewhat of a friend. It’s business first of all though and I’m going to have to forget his face and forget who he is for this fight. He is a great guy and I like him a lot though.

FightNews: I’m sure you’re also excited about a big step up and appearing as co-feature on ESPN.

Asselstine: Absolutely, it’s exciting. It’s a huge opportunity for me. Not only to show Canada but the world who I am.

FightNews: With all the changes that has gone on with this card, there must have been some initial disappointment when Diaz dropped out

Asselstine: For sure, everyday for three weeks I would be eating, breathing and fighting Diaz. I was watching him non-stop. I was training specifically for him and I felt well prepared and felt that I was specifically ready to beat him. It was a little bit frustrating in that way but I’m just happy to have an opponent to fight and have an opportunity to fight on ESPN.

FightNews: How do you feel you match-up with Baha and what is it you’re going to have to do Friday to win this fight?

Asselstine: I know he’s just going to come forward, he’s really heavy right now, we’re fighting at 134 and that’s the weight I’m walking around at right now, I expected to fight at 128 pounds. He’s shorter than me and thicker and will probably try to walk through my punches, but I think I should e able to beat him.

Baha Laham

FightNews: This fight came together pretty quickly, when did you first find out about that you were going to fight Tyler?

Laham: I found out the day after his fight with Diaz got cancelled. I think it was on the Friday. Camille (manager Camille Estephan) called me and told me Diaz got injured and that they were looking for a fighter and whether or not I was interested. I said 'why not, let's take it.'

FightNews: So no hesitation on your part?

Laham: No heistation at all. I was in good shape and I've been training. It's a good fight and good opportunity to fight on ESPN. It wasn't just a regular fight, ESPN, Bell Centre, co-main event, so absolutely, I want to be the best so I got to move my way up.

FightNews: Your fight scheduled in Gatineau was set for the week after, how has that affected your timetable and preparation?

Laham: Since my comeback I've been in the gym on a daily basis. Whether the fight was in three weeks, two weeks or last week, I would have been ready. The only factor was the weight. I thought I'd have a few weeks to make weight and instead I had to make it in a week, but I've been eating healthy and it's just losing the water. I've lost the last couple of pounds this week, everything has been perfectly fine actually.

FightNews: What is the contract weight for the fight?

Laham: 134

FightNews: This fight has been talked of or rumoured in the past, is the higher-profile of this fight the reason for taking it now or was it just talk in the past and no actual offer?

Laham: To be honest I had never heard that he was interested. It may have been back when I was with Russ (former trainer Russ Anber), but I've never heard of any previous offer.

FightNews: How well do you know Asselstine? Have you ever sparred or been had your paths cross in the past?

Laham: We've never sparred. I've seen him fight a couple of times. We're sometimes on the same show. We're Facebook friends! (laughing). I see him around and say hi, he's a quiet guy and seems like a nice guy, but I don't think we've ever talked more than two minutes.

FightNews: So no trash talking on Facebook?

Laham: No, no, no. I haven't seen any of that. I'm sure we both want to win this fight. We're both gentlemen, both respectful, we've both been on the National team for many years. We both have a good amateur background.

FightNews: This is certainly a lot different fight than the one you had scheduled against a 7-5 opponent. What adjustments will you have to make inside the ring and your mindset as you go against a undefeated fighter?

Laham: You know I've learnt with experience that being around pro fighters that records mean nothing. You could find a guy with a 50-50 record to be an amazing talent, it depends who you've been matched up against. And you can have guys who are 15-0 or 20-0 and not be that impressive, the record doesn't concern me. I don't mind his record, he has an undefeated record, I have an undefeated record. I know what I'm capable of and I've been training hard. It's not the record that's going to scare me, whether he's 15-0 or 0-15, we're not playing hockey and one punch can change the whole fight.

Fightnews: In order for you to come out on top Friday night, what do feel you'll have to do?

Laham: I got to stick to my game plan, head movement, you know I'm the type of fighter that adjusts during the fight. I'm not going to worry about him, I'm going to let him worry about me. I'm not thinking about a perfect plan for him, change the way I fight. No, I'm not going to stress with that, I'm going to fight my fight and let him be the one who makes the adjustments.