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4 years later, road leads to Haney against Loma for all the marbles
Undisputed lightweight championship on the line Saturday night
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It was 2019 and Devin Haney, just 20 at the time, was one of the top lightweight prospects in boxing. He had big goals and a spotless record when he knocked out Zaur Abdullaev in the fourth round to win the vacant WBC interim title.
Having the interim belt put him in position for a mandatory fight with three-belt unified champion Vasiliy Lomachenko, who two weeks before Haney claimed the interim belt knocked down and decisively outpointed Luke Campbell on his turf in London to win the vacant WBC title.
Haney was eager to face Lomachenko, the two-time Olympic gold medalist and three-division champion viewed by most as the pound-for-pound king.
But Haney did not get that chance because Lomachenko instead asked for, and was given, the WBC’s controversial “franchise” title and vacated the world title. He had no interest in facing Haney, who was not well known, brought little to the table and was with a rival promoter and broadcaster.
Instead, the big fight for Lomachenko — and a highly anticipated fight in general — was for him to meet fellow Top Rank fighter Teofimo Lopez, who held the fourth belt, in a unification fight.
Haney was left to defend the WBC world title in smaller events, but even as he racked up defenses many were critical, calling him an “email champion” because he had been elevated once Lomachenko accepted the trophyesque “franchise” title.
It was criticism that bothered Haney but what he could he do? He couldn’t make Lomachenko fight him and instead defended against opponents such as Yuriorkis Gamboa, Jorge Linares and Joseph Diaz Jr., all former world titleholders but none nearly Lomachenko’s stature.
Meanwhile, Lomachenko would go on to lose a decision to Lopez in October 2020. Lopez would in turn lose the belts to George Kambosos Jr., who offered Lomachenko — who had rebounded from the loss to notch a pair of wins in 2021 — a chance to fight him for the belts.
Just before the fight was slated to be announced, Lomachenko bowed out. Russia had invaded his home country of Ukraine and his mind was not right. He elected to stay home and help defend the country.
“You can’t think about your future when there’s a war coming to your house,” Lomachenko said. “You just think about life and about your family and about the people around you. You think about how you can live another day. You can’t think about your job. You can’t think about a professional sport.”
With Kambosos in need of a dance partner, Haney pursued the fight and they were able to make a deal, but only if Haney signed with Top Rank and changed broadcasters. It also meant a trip to Kambosos’ home country of Australia and agreeing to an immediate rematch in Australia if he won. Haney gave in on everything to get the opportunity.
‘I feel like he should have fought me four years ago. But now the time has come,’ — Haney
Haney agreed to it all and they met last June in Melbourne, where Haney put on a dominating performance and routed Kambosos to fully unify the division and become the first undisputed lightweight champion of the four-belt era. Four months later, Haney returned to Melbourne and did it again, making his sixth overall defense in the rematch Kambosos was contractually entitled to.
And now, four years after Lomachenko brushed off a fight with Haney, going so far as to vacate one of his titles, they will meet on Saturday (ESPN+PPV, 10 p.m. ET, $59.99) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, where Haney watched many fights from the stands as a kid growing up in the city.
“He made me wait four years to fight him,” Haney said. “I was 20 years old. So, I don’t like Loma. I want to beat him bad. I want to send him into retirement.”
But Haney also has respect for Lomachenko.
“I take my hat off to him,” Haney said. “I respect everything that he’s done. I respect his decision to stay and defend his country. That gave me my shot to go to Australia, so it was only right that I give him the shot as well.”
Haney (29-0, 15 KOs) is no longer that kid or the 20-year-old Lomachenko declined to face. Now he is an improved and mature 24-year-old with all the belts and regarded as the top 135-pounder in the world.
“I feel like he should have fought me four years ago. But now the time has come,” Haney said. “It’s going to be worse for him than it would have been had we fought back then. On paper, this is my toughest test. But I look to make it an easy night. I look to make it as easy as possible and come out victorious.
"I’m going to put on a dominant victory. I’m going to go in there and impose my will on Loma and show the world how great Devin Haney really is, how versatile, how strong, how young, and how experienced I am in that ring.”
Lomachenko, 35, is the underdog for the first time in his career, because many view him as having lost a step and because he is coming off a pedestrian performance in October in a decision win over then-unbeaten but unheralded Jamaine Ortiz.
But Haney said he believes Lomachenko is still an elite fighter, just that he is better.
“Loma is definitely no slouch,” Haney said. “He’s not a guy you can go in there and do anything with. It takes strategy and a lot of skills. He has skills. He has a lot of IQ and great amateur pedigree.”
‘I understand it is my last chance to become undisputed,’ — Lomachenko
As far as Lomachenko (17-2, 11 KOs), a southpaw, is concerned, whatever happened in 2019 was long ago. All he knows is that now he has a chance to become an undisputed champion, the one thing that has eluded him and something he has wanted and spoken endlessly about since tuning pro in 2013.
“Camp was hard like always, but it was very motivating. It was motivating because I understand it is my last chance to become undisputed,” Lomachenko said. “So, I pushed myself in every training session. He talks about the past, but it’s hard to say things about the past. You can’t change it. Even if you talk about it, you can’t change it. Only God can change it.
“I just think about what I need to do during a fight and my goal is to become the undisputed champion of the world.”
While Haney makes no secret about being upset that Lomachenko wouldn’t fight him four years ago, he knows he’s got him now, even if the circumstances are different.
“The tables have turned this time around,” Haney said. “When he had the belts, he didn’t want to fight me. But it’s a fight where I truly believe I am the better fighter. I’m the better competitor. I will be victorious. I’m happy that the time has finally come.”
10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV ($59.99)
Lightweights: Devin Haney (29-0, 15 KOs) vs. Vasiliy Lomachenko (17-2, 11 KOs), 12 rounds, for Haney’s undisputed title
Junior lightweights: Oscar Valdez (30-1, 23 KOs) vs. Adam Lopez, 10 rounds
Lightweights: Raymond Muratalla vs. Jeremia Nakathila (23-2, 19 KOs), 10 rounds
8 p.m. ET on ESPN, ESPN Deportes, ESPN+
Junior bantamweights: Andrew Moloney (25-2, 16 KOs) vs. Junto Nakatani (24-0, 18 KOs), 12 rounds, for vacant WBO title
Middleweights: Nico Ali Walsh (8-0, 5 KOs) vs. Danny Rosenberger (13-9-4, 4 KOs), 8 rounds
6 p.m. ET on ESPN+
Lightweights: Emiliano Vargas (4-0, 3 KOs) vs. Rafael Jasso (3-0, 1 KO), 4 rounds
Lightweights: Abdullah Mason (7-0, 6 KOs) vs. Desmond Lyons (8-2, 2 KOs), 6 rounds
Junior featherweights: Floyd Diaz (8-0, 3 KOs) vs. Fernando Saavedra (9-8, 3 KOs), 8 rounds
Middleweights: Amari Jones (8-0, 7 KOs) vs. Panchino Hill (8-2-1, 6 KOs), 6 rounds
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