For some time now, Devin Haney has been discussed as a sort of spiritual successor to Floyd Mayweather Jr., a boxing mastermind if there ever was one on either side of the ropes. And on at least one occasion during Saturday’s DAZN broadcast, Haney — all of 23 years old — was mentioned in the same breath as Sugar Ray Leonard, the razor-fisted Hall of Famer and noblest of the famed Four Kings, a one-man marketing juggernaut in his own right.
It would all be high praise if it weren’t such transparently silly bullshit.
Haney isn’t to blame, of course. The market for silly bullshit in boxing is, as always, booming. Defending a lightweight trinket title against Joseph Diaz last Saturday at the Las Vegas MGM Grand Arena, Haney just happened to be the product the sport was shilling that night. Even if he didn’t match the breathless hyperbole — and let’s be honest, how could he? — Haney was at least able to mostly stick to the script, outworking and outpointing Diaz in a 117-111 (twice), 116-112 unanimous decision. For those who were anticipating the second coming of Money May or Sugar Ray, I have some oceanfront property in Paradise — right next to McCarran Airport — I’d be happy to sell you.
Still, the win over Diaz (32-2-1), a gritty 29-year-old who briefly held a title at junior lightweight last year, was at least a step in the right direction for Haney (27-0). After an uneven performance against the shopworn Jorge Linares in May, and with other young lightweights threatening to soak up his share of the spotlight, Haney and his crew went into Saturday hoping to disprove his “pillow-fisted” reputation, dazzle the crowd and stay on track for bigger prizes at 135 or 140 pounds.
Score it one out of three for Haney. With a significant reach advantage against the southpaw Diaz, Haney came out working behind his jab, snapping off punches at distance and landing the cleaner shots. He took control of the early rounds if only because Diaz seemed uninterested, or possibly uncertain, in asserting some of his own. It wasn’t until the 4th that Diaz seemed to wake up, working over Haney a bit against the ropes and timing a big counter left hand upstairs.
Unfazed, Haney would simply better Diaz’s efforts more often, round by round. In the 5th, a left uppercut-right cross combination through and around Diaz’s tight guard demonstrated truly impressive punch variation and accuracy. Still, whenever Haney would seem to have an opportunity to drop the hammer — or at least aggressively swarm with a feather duster — he left the door cracked, either settling in on the ropes too long or failing to consistently counter when Diaz did open up.
After the 9th, Diaz’s father and trainer, Joseph Sr., told his son, accurately, “You’ve got the control” whenever Haney is on the ropes. But seeing and doing are two different things. Diaz would press but not punch. He’d hem in Haney, then casually let him slip away. JoJo shouldn’t have needed the old man’s blueprint — the way forward, quite obviously, was forward — but his indifference to it only underscored his directionlessness.
Diaz had one final chance, in the 12th, and it materialized because he finally zigged after a night of mostly unproductive zagging: He let loose. Diaz isn’t a massive puncher, but he was never likely to outbox Haney — and the left hands he landed were proof enough that he should have been more aggressive from the start. Haney briefly appeared buzzed (shades of the Linares fight), but he recovered before Diaz could do any further damage.
The performance offered enough to justify a bit of continued fuss over Haney’s future, if not the immediate commissioning of his profile to be chiseled into the Mount Rushmore of all-time lightweights. There’s nothing at all wrong with the way Haney has come up: a sparkling run through the amateurs, a bit of seasoning in TJ, a gradually ascending course plotted toward contendership. Credit to Bill Haney, that rarest of things in the sport: a father-trainer with a fully operational limbic system and ambitions that extend no further than the success and well-being of his son.
But it’s easy to forget: Devin Haney is younger than peach fuzz. Although originally slated to face fellow paper phenom Ryan Garcia, Haney still has yet to take on any of the top contenders at 135 pounds. And for those still hung up on those comparisons to Mayweather and Leonard, the media game so far hasn’t been Haney’s bag. Scrolling through his Instagram account and mumbling about his “drip” in a pre-fight segment, Haney flashed all the charisma of an insurance adjuster describing his morning oatmeal. Maybe it was Bring Your Preteen Daughter to Work Day in the DAZN production booth.
There may, however, be hope for Haney yet. When asked after dispatching Diaz if he’d be willing to travel to Australia for a date with new unified lightweight champion George Kambosos, who was in the building to witness Saturday’s fight, Haney said, “I’ll go to Jupiter if I have to. Let’s do it next.”
Good answer, kid. Who knows what will happen to that matchup when the bean counters and network mooks start fiddle-fucking around with the notion of it, which we can set our watches by. But at least Haney did his part Saturday, winning pretty convincingly and then confidently stepping across the line drawn in the sand by the next man up. I don’t know if Haney is boxing’s next superstar — and anyone who tells you they do is, of course, selling you something. But he’s got tools to work with and a lot of runway left in his career. Let’s give him a minute to lift off, shall we?
(Photo by Ed Mulholland for Matchroom Boxing)