When a 20-year-old prodigy called out the great Vasyl Lomachenko on Friday night, many were left scratching their heads. Those people clearly don’t know Devin Haney.
“It’s No-machenko, because he doesn’t want to fight me… No-machenko, come on, let’s get this fight going!”
The much-hyped American had spent four rounds peppering the solid, and as yet undefeated, Zaur Abdullaev with an array of shots from his hugely impressive arsenal – culminating in the Russian retiring on his stool with what appeared to be a fractured cheekbone.
Those deriding Haney’s pugnacity for challenging the pound-for-pound king declared him deluded, fame-hungry and arrogant, but those familiar with his story were far from surprised.
Haney had turned professional as a teenager, heading to the unforgiving fight clubs of Tijuana, Mexico, with his father at the tender age of just sixteen. Crowds were unanimous in their opposition, baying for his blood as he toughed it out with sluggers twice his age.
Normal kids don’t do this. Ambitious kids run a mile in search of confidence-boosting tomato cans to knock over. Such a baptism of fire is reserved only for the most fearless. And this is perhaps Haney’s defining attribute.
That’s not to say any part of his skill set is lacking. Haney dismisses the “prospect” tag some still give him, insisting he is now a serious contender in the lightweight division despite his juvenility. And there’s no doubt he already looks like a ready-made star, moulded in the style of history’s great boxer-punchers.
Comparisons with the 135lbs version of Floyd Mayweather have been made, particularly in his superb management of distance, but it’s clear there’s more than one fighter who’s coloured his palette.
Indeed, there were shades of another legendary lightweight, the recently deceased José “Mantequilla” Nápoles, on Friday as he worked a terrific hook off of his relentless jab to bamboozle the previously undefeated Russian.
The artful aggression of the human wrecking ball that was lightweight era “Sugar” Shane Mosley may also provide a stylistic influence as Haney exhibits blurring hand speed and ferocious body punching whilst maintaining his defensive shape exquisitely.
This gushing praise may sound foolishly premature to some. Not to Haney and his father, Bill (an unassuming but impressive individual who still guides him as his trainer). Such is their confidence that vanquishing all foes in Mexico was quickly followed by sparring the likes of Shawn Porter, Gervonta Davis, and the aforementioned Floyd.
Haney is now the WBC mandatory challenger for Lomachenko’s belt, and it’s a fight he appears to be salivating over. Eagerly demanding such a test is sadly entirely rare these days. Fights have to “marinade”, unbeaten records have to be protected, and the money has to be extraordinarily irresistible.
In this respect Devin Haney is something of a throwback fighter, goading his rivals in order to achieve greatness rather than letting the slick-talking promotional machine lead the way.
The likelihood of a clash with the Ukrainian master anytime soon remains doubtful, not least because of the WBC’s abysmal decision to add yet another layer of pseudo-championship belts to sully the sport’s stinking politics even further. But Haney should be applauded. Boxing would be a great deal more thrilling if fighters demonstrated such cojones.
America has a future pound-for-pound star on its hands. And nobody is more aware of it than Team Haney.
Written by: Phil Rogers
Follow Phil on Twitter at: @SouthpawBoxNews