Devin “The Dream” Haney put on a boxing clinic inside Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater on Friday night, as the 20-year-old scooped the WBC interim title at 135 pounds, announcing himself onto the world stage.
It’s quite the feat. Having turned pro in Mexico back in 2015, Haney has notched up 23 wins in just under four years, collecting 15 stoppages in the process. Signing with Matchroom Boxing USA in April of this year, the unbeaten lightweight has fought his way to the top of the WBC’s rankings, with the WBA the only recognized organization not to have him featured inside the top 10 at the 135-pound limit.
Friday night was considered Haney’s biggest test to date. Zaur Abdullaev arrived in New York as an unbeaten Russian who was capable of upsetting the applecart in devastating fashion, but what materialized was an anti-climatic schooling from a near punch-perfect Haney, yet starved of that highlight reel finish he no doubt craved.
Haney took the evening in his stride. Headlining a DAZN show for the first time in the Big Apple, the youngster strolled to the ring in a confident manner, an infectious beaming smile plastered across his face, looking wiser and more comfortable than his years would suggest. Nothing was going to phase him, nothing was going to stand in the way of what turned out to be a signature win for one of boxing’s hottest young prospects.
Now, I can’t admit to having the best seat in the house. Having been left stranded in Chicago following a canceled flight to Vancouver, I settled down for the evening with a questionable stream and an even more questionable beer at a ropey hotel bar. Contemplating trying to navigate the DAZN website for a free trial for one night of boxing was easily trumped by a free alternative, however, after a clear picture for the Hunter–Kuzmin fight, it seemed downhill from there.
Despite the jolting frames and the brief cut-outs, Haney’s flashy, crisp jab was impossible to miss. Shooting from the hip, penetrating the guard of the Russian with ease, Haney asserted his control from the opening bell landing a sweet combo halfway through the first round. The dominance continued as his overhand right — a shot becoming synonymous with “The Dream” at such a tender age — failed to miss the target; Abdullaev’s coach was forced to ask his fighter if he knew what was going on following six minutes of one-sided action.
Haney’s defence was just as impressive, tucking up, rolling and frustrating the limited work of the Russian. Abdullaev would try and work the body of Haney to no avail, as his ripped target remained elusive. Combinations flowed from the mitts of the American, as his jab continued to pepper Zaur’s upstairs and downstairs with supreme accuracy. Four rounds was deemed enough by Abdullaev’s corner – the Russian failed to rise for the fifth round with Haney being declared the winner in fairly underwhelming fashion. Abdullaev may well have left New York with a fractured cheekbone for his troubles.
Ever since signing Haney earlier this year, British promoter Eddie Hearn hasn’t been shy in declaring the lightweight as one of the sport’s next big stars. Seeing Haney succeed following in the footsteps of Floyd Mayweather Jr through the weights is a lazy, predictable comparison for Hearn to make, but one that at this early stage holds a degree of weight.
There are certainly signs of Haney displaying “Pretty Boy” attributes from a more flamboyant period in Mayweather’s career, where he was flashier with his attacks and known as a knockout-hungry fighter in the featherweight and lightweight divisions. Young Mayweather’s skills on the inside were what set him apart in the biggest tests. Whether Haney is willing to trade in the pocket instead of a reliance on keeping the fight at a distance is when we can really begin to compare. Another true comparison will be made when Haney is forced to swim in deeper waters. With the DAZN money trickling in, there has been no pressure for Hearn to move Haney towards an all-out-risk fight — an outing on the KSI–Logan Paul card in early November will likely prove to be a tick over job as they sit on their WBC interim strap.
“I’m not just going to sit around and wait for (Vasiliy) Lomachenko,” Haney explained post-fight, following referring to the lightweight champion as “No-Machenko” in the ring. Haney, and Hearn, are trying to convince the public that Loma will avoid the fight with Devin, using an excuse of moving back down in weight to super feather and feather.
“I’m going to defend my interim world title and we’ll see what happens,” Haney continued. “One thing I can say is if I’m so easy, and so green and not ready, then why not just fight me and beat me? Get me out of the way. If I saw somebody that was an easy payday, I would fight him too!” The last part is an interesting insight to how Haney sees his future in the game.
“I’m talking a lot, I’m making a lot of buzz, and I’m calling his name. I DM-ed him on Instagram and he didn’t respond. Why not get me out of the way?”
Lomachenko and Bob Arum have made their intentions clear following the addition of the WBC title to Loma’s lightweight collection against Luke Campbell. Facing the Commey–Lopez winner would give Loma the chance to become undisputed at 135 pounds, with a move back down the weights likely to follow. Haney will be moving in the opposite direction, but using Loma’s name to gain traction within the media this week has proved a smart move. Hearn has even claimed he will send a contract to Lomachenko and Top Rank this week knowing full well that it won’t be returned signed. The irony of this move hasn’t been lost, with Hearn in the past constantly berating Deontay Wilder’s team for similar antics during Anthony Joshua fight weeks.
Haney’s long-term vision is set, with “The Dream” seemingly reluctant to move up before securing a full title at lightweight.
“I’m ready to fight the best fighters, and I want to showcase my skills,” he admitted. “I’m only getting better. That’s why I keep saying, ‘Those guys better fight me now, because as time goes on, I’m only going to get better. It’s only going to get worse or them.’ I work hard, and I’m a student of the game. So every fight I’m only going to get better. I’ll stay at 135 if I can get a big fight, but I’m not going to stay here forever. But I’m willing to stay here a little bit longer, because I want to get a title at 135, and then move up. I don’t want to leave the 135-pound division without getting a title. I want to be a multi-weight, multi-division world champion. So it starts at 135.”
Haney knows he won’t get the Lomachenko fight, so hanging around at 135 until the early part of 2020 could see him get a shot at a vacant strap. With the World Boxing Super Series final between Josh Taylor and Regis Prograis dominating the movement at 140 pounds, Haney and Hearn will be plotting the perfect time to move.
“Even at 140, the matchups are incredible. Devin against Jose Ramirez,” stated Hearn. “That’s a great fight. Jose against the winner of Prograis vs Taylor. That’s a great fight. Gervonta Davis, they’ve got history. They want that fight bad. The future; he’s only 20. I told him tonight, ‘The world is your oyster. It really is,’” a gushing Hearn continued.
“I’d love to get him to the UK. After the fight I went on social media and he was trending No. 1 in the UK, which is basically live on Sky Sports tonight. There was a lot of people staying up to watch him. It’s four o’clock in the morning, and every boxing fan in the UK was staying up to watch him. I’d even like to take him to Saudi Arabia to have him box on the Joshua card. There’s so many things I want to do.”
Slight hyperbole from Hearn — I’m unconvinced that an army of UK fans stayed up through the night for Haney, but it’s undeniable that he has penetrated the interest of the boxing public across the pond.
Time is on the side of Haney, but with his stock rising it’s crucial that opportunities don’t slip away en route. If Floyd’s career is Haney’s blueprint, then tests will have to be passed soon; I love the idea of a Devin Haney–Luke Campbell showdown for a vacant title next summer. This being made seems hugely dependent on Campbell’s perceived worth to Hearn moving forward.
With his father in the corner, a dedicated promoter and a wise head on his young shoulders, there appears to be no ceiling to the success Haney can achieve in the pro game. He still has a lot to learn, but the foundations are set as we wait to see whether “The Dream” can turn into a reality.