LAS VEGAS — Perhaps it isn’t fair, but for the last few years, Devin Haney has been perceived by some as the least of the group of elite lightweights who should be known as “The Four Princes.”
Haney, Teofimo Lopez, Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia are all undefeated, charismatic lightweights with the ability to change the sport.
Lopez holds the undisputed 135-pound championship and Davis has an interim WBA belt. Garcia is not a champion but is one of the most improved boxers in the sport, though he’s now battling mental health issues.
And Haney is the WBC lightweight champion, though Lopez sarcastically taunts him as “the email champion.”
Haney took a big leap on Saturday when he outboxed Jorge Linares in their bout for the WBC belt at Mandalay Bay and won a unanimous decision. Judges Patricia Morse-Jarman and Steve Weisfeld had it 116-112 for Haney, while Dave Moretti had it 115-113. Yahoo Sports also had Haney 115-113.
For nine rounds, things couldn’t have been better for Haney, who basically stood in front of the hard-hitting Linares and picked him apart.
He did that for most of the 10th, though Linares ripped him at the end of the round with a shot that left him wobbling back to his corner.
Haney and promoter Eddie Hearn did their level best to minimize it. Hearn repeatedly referenced the fact that Linares dropped Vasiliy Lomachenko and didn’t drop Haney, but the Lomachenko-Linares fight was in 2018 and Lomachenko went on to win by TKO.
Haney showed the grit and determination of a champion and finished the fight on his feet and showed that, yes, he’s ready for the best of them at 135.
This is a superstar in the making and, despite the hiccup in the 10th that caused him some late concerns, he advanced toward that status. He found a quality fighter who can punch and looked a cut above most of the night.
“Devin is a pure boxer, but we want him to be a fan friendly fighter as well,” his father, trainer Bill Haney, said. “He had to man up and fight in the pocket against a clever, very experienced guy in Jorge Linares. What we wanted to do is back him up and he did a great job of backing him up.
“Devin did get hit with that shot. You guys [in the media] have wondered what would happen when he got hit with a shot. He’d never given you a chance to see what would happen. But you saw him take it.”
Haney showed championship moxie in surviving Linares’ late charge, which made the bout appear closer on the cards than it was in actuality.
But he also did that at the post-fight news conference, when he repeatedly said he wants to fight the best fighters in the division. He called out Lopez, who makes a mandatory defense against George Kambosos on June 19 in Miami, but said he wants “to fight all the great fighters.”
And when it was suggested that Lopez is a bigger puncher than Linares, Haney was ready.
“Jorge Linares dropped Loma,” Haney said. “Did [Lopez]? You say Lopez hits harder, but how do you know? You don’t.”
Hearn was optimistic that the fight could be made and insisted there would be no network problems. Haney is with DAZN, while Lopez is with ESPN and Davis with Premier Boxing Champions. Hearn said DAZN would make a big financial offer for a Haney-Lopez fight, but if contractual issues forced it to be on ESPN, it wouldn’t be a problem.
“It’s simple,” Hearn said. “Network issues aren’t going to be a problem. They won’t get in the way of the fight being made.”
Those fights would only lift the profiles of the fighters involved, so hopefully Hearn is correct and they can be made.
Haney is going to be a handful for any of them. At times, he is reminiscent of a young Floyd Mayweather, who was a much more offensive fighter in his early days than he was in the backstretch of his career when he was known as “Money May” and won by using his defense.
Haney’s got brilliant reflexes, is an accurate puncher and showed Saturday he has the grit he needs to bite down on the mouthpiece and battle through adversity.
And Haney was defiant in the face of questions about Linares’ late comeback.
“This is boxing and to think you’re going to go in and not get hit with any punches in a 12-round fight, it’s unbelievable,” Haney said.
It’s not getting hit, or getting knocked down, that ultimately matters. It’s what you do when you’re hit or when you’re dropped.
Haney reacted in championship style on Saturday.
Now, with guys like Lopez, Davis, Lomachenko and Garcia out there, he’s going to get the chance to prove it in the only place that matters.
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