Undefeated WBC Lightweight champion Devin Haney may or may not have a bright future ahead of him – we don’t all have to have the same opinion
One can confidently believe that a fighter, in this case Devin Haney, is good. The undefeated WBC Lightweight champion might even be very good. In terms of optimism on Haney’s future, perhaps that’s a matter of being in the eye of the beholder.
However, while looking forward to a fighter’s future, one can simultaneously have concerns about how a fighter’s skills may serve them as they move onto tougher competition. Secondly, one can also look at the possible moves available to a fighter they like, and ponder what is the most meaningful move that can be made. Also, what are the inherent risks with each potential opponent? After all, the “others” are prizefighters themselves. They don’t show up just to get beat.
Look, for how I follow boxing, and the intriguing storylines I look to it for, 23-year old Haney adds value. I respected Team Haney for opting to pass on Premier Boxing Champions and Top Rank, and take his talents to the disruptive DAZN streaming app. Of course I did, I was in the midst of an annual subscription when that development happened. I’ve followed Eddie Hearn and father and head trainer Bill Haney’s handling of the young champion, starting with Antonio Moran in May 2019.
After a couple of bouts, Hearn lined up familiar names like Yuriorkis Gamboa and Jorge Linares to bolster Haney’s résumé. Prior to these bouts, a failed pursuit of former unified champion Vasiliy Lomachenko didn’t prove to be totally fruitless. The title fight versus Lomachenko never materialized, but after the two-time Ukraine Olympian’s status was elevated to WBC Franchise champion, the sanctioning body rewarded Haney with their world championship for Lightweight.
Subsequently, Haney soundly defeated Gamboa, then Linares and on Saturday, December 4 he passed his toughest test in former IBF Super Featherweight champion Joseph Diaz Jr. Haney won 8 or 9 rounds, and avoided any late missteps such as his sketchy moment in the final seconds of the 10th round versus Linares. The young champion got buzzed and had to overcome the effects of a solid punch over the fight’s final six minutes. No shame in that. This is boxing and fighters get hit.
Haney retained his title with a decisive performance against Diaz. My question after watching the fight in totality became: What would the champion do against a taller, stronger and heavier punching opponent late in a fight?
This isn’t me wanting to see Haney tested or defeated. This is me looking ahead, as we often do, and considering an occurrence I’ve witnessed regularly in boxing. After the more skilled fighter wins 8-10 rounds of a fight, the other fighter becomes more desperate and usually looks to make the most of their shot at boxing’s most prestigious achievement – to become a world champion. And at all costs. The shorter Diaz gave up seven inches of reach to Haney. Haney’s jab, movement and other defensive tactics along with his overall size advantage allowed him to thwart any major outburst of any kind.
That was Diaz. But boxing fans aren’t the only ones watching these fights. The field, or the competition, is also putting together its strategies to dethrone Haney. As early as after the second round Diaz told his cornermen Haney couldn’t hurt him. Now, the former 130-pound champion failed to capitalize on that fact over the next 10 rounds. But, whatever Haney’s pop is, and isn’t, is starting to become a reoccurring theme about the book on the Las Vegas-based champion.
What’s Next for Haney
The joint partnership between Devin Haney Promotions and Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing has been relatively successful. Notwithstanding the incomplete bid to face Lomachenko, the young man is a world champion with a few credible defenses. Team Haney’s preferred move would be a highly lucrative, and career-defining, bout with the newly-crowned IBF/WBA/WBO/lineal champion George Kambosos Jr to establish a Lightweight undisputed champion. Kambosos crashed the division’s championship picture with his upset of former unified champion Teofimo Lopez Jr. on November 27 in a DAZN streamed fight.
Kambosos remained stateside for a few weeks for visibility during Haney’s defense, Gervonta Davis vs. Isaac Cruz and finally last weekend’s Vasiliy Lomachenko wide unanimous decision over former Lightweight champion Richard Commey. Kambosos’ titles, in conjunction with not being bound to a rematch with Lopez, allows the network free agent to make a couple of moves. He could conceivably choose an opponent for a title defense in his homeland of Australia. A healthy homecoming reception could be used to possibly persuade Haney, Lomachenko or Davis to go abroad for a championship bout.
Frankly, only 2 of the 3 have a realistic shot. Kambosos’ business may opt to secure their champion some kind of multi-fight deal with a promoter and/or network. Every fighter wants financial stability, protection and leverage.
If Hearn can’t keep Kambosos on DAZN, what options does Haney have for a meaningful fight? I don’t care how great or average you feel Haney is, I’m interested in what fight moves the needle for the young champion – and boxing.
The complications are obvious. Lomachenko fights on ESPN under the Top Rank banner and no longer holds any titles. Excellent fight.
Then there are ranked fighters like Emmanuel Tagoe, Michel Rivera, William Zepeda and long-shot Frank Martin. Promotional and network affiliations come into play there. The more recognizable names include Isaac Cruz, who raised his stock versus Davis, and Ryan Garcia. Garcia already won a WBC eliminator bout to challenge Haney for the title. He considered alternative business moves before withdrawing from a couple of bouts and doesn’t have a fight scheduled. Or any real time-table for a return.
I’m obligated to mention Davis here, but he’s the face of Mayweather Promotions and fights on Showtime Pay Per View.
How Long is Haney for Lightweight?
DAZN’s media figures have freely mentioned Haney’s time at the 135-pound max is short. Furthermore, the thinking for some believe, with the exception of an undisputed fight with Kambosos, cutting down to 135 pounds might be behind Haney. This is the narrative on DAZN digital content and related podcasts.
With a move up to the loaded Super Lightweight division, this is where I have to be extremely honest. Even if I’m just talking to me.
Haney is a big Lightweight. And despite having this size advantage, Haney isn’t punishing and breaking the will of smaller opponents in the division. I haven’t seen him truly impose his will in many of his fights.
So, for anybody cocked and ready to take aim at me for my inconvenient questions, please lay out the path forward for Haney at 140 pounds. I am all ears. Please explain it to me like I’m a 5-7 year old.
First of all, with a move up five pounds, the complication of network and promoter affiliations still apply. To save us time, I’ll go right to the rugged Subriel Matias – No. 2 IBF and No. 7 WBC – and ask how do think he respects Haney’s skill set and power. See Matias’ disrespectful stoppage of Malik Hawkins and his physical eight round stoppage of Batyrzhan Jukembayev in May on the Oubaali-Donaire undercard. That’s not a matchup one would rush into for Haney at this time.
Let’s look at the kingpin of the division in undisputed champion Josh Taylor. As a current champion Team Haney’s desire would be to look for quick routes to championships, right? Is Haney ready for a Taylor?
We can keep moving and quickly consider some other names at 140. Regis Prograis. Arnold Barboza. Jose Ramirez. Jose Zepeda. Robert Easter Jr. And both Sandor Martin and Shakram Giyasov, who may be the only potential opponents with ties to DAZN and/or Matchroom. There are varying mixes of the complexity associated with making a fight, risk and reward in play with all of these moves.
As a boxing fan, I’d love to see the majority of these bouts. In terms of Haney’s choices and the risks involved, I see these as being difficult to navigate, and I don’t see him as a Super Lightweight I’d easily favor against all comers. This is boxing, it’s a tough sport, and Haney’s long-term success isn’t guaranteed. Nothing and nobody should be guaranteed in boxing.
Just because I have questions (that I say aloud) about Haney’s future moves, and the outcomes of certain potential matchups, doesn’t mean I foresee things going badly for the young man. I do see him being in some tough fights, and that’s why I continue to tune into boxing.
Regularly, various fighters post on their social media accounts for future opponents to be “lined up”, or tacit requests for their promoters to “throw them to the wolves.” Frankly, I’m here for all of that, but we just know (or should) that’s not how every fighter is ultimately moved. I still go back to my opinion that, based on Haney’s title defenses, much of the competition will be ready for their shot to crumble the young man’s dreams.
Featured image by Ed Mulholland/Matchroom