The past and present of boxing’s talent-rich lightweight division will face off on Saturday in a pay-per-view crossroads fight in Las Vegas.
Devin Haney (29-0, 15 KOs), the 24-year-old undisputed king at 135 pounds, takes on former unified champion and pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko (17-2, 11 KOs) inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Lomachenko, a 35-year-old native of Ukraine, looks for his fourth straight win since an upset 2020 loss to Teofimo Lopez Jr.
Let’s take a look at the biggest storylines entering this weekend’s bout for all four recognized lightweight titles.
1. Haney just might be the future of boxing
To be fair, Haney has some legit competition in this category from members of his own division, including breakthrough star Gervonta “Tank” Davis and two-division champion Shakur Stevenson. But if you were looking to create the most well-rounded boxer possible in a video game, one would look no further than Haney as the default template. At just 24, Haney is already an 8-year pro after skipping the U.S. Olympic amateur route in favor of turning pro as just a teenager in Tijuana, Mexico, where 10 of his first 15 fights took place. Recruitment from every major promoter followed as Haney showed confidence and an ability as a ring technician which belied his age. And outside of being rocked in the closing rounds and forced to hang on late in outpointing former champion Jorge Linares in 2021, Haney has been nearly flawless in winning all 29 of his fights. With long arms and an educated jab, Haney controls distance like few others. He also possesses elite defense, legitimate power and a next-level ring IQ that saw him draw comparisons at times, like Stevenson, to a young Floyd Mayweather. Haney has also been savvy on the business end by switching promoters in order to maximize opportunities, like the three-fight deal he signed with Top Rank that allowed him to unify all four lightweight titles through a two-fight series in Australia with former unified champion George Kambosos Jr.
2. This is what Lomachenko’s legacy has been all about
He may be long removed from his pair of Olympic gold medals after 10 years as a pro, but Lomachenko’s legacy has long been built upon his desire to face the best possible opponent at every given turn. It’s why Lomachenko signed with Top Rank’s Bob Arum, whom he pushed to secure a world title fight in his pro debut but ultimately was forced to settle with his second fight. From there, came titles in two divisions by his seventh bout before unifying titles in a third division in 2019. Even Lomachenko’s lone defeat at lightweight deserves respect considering he took on then-unbeaten slugger Teofimo Lopez Jr. and made a strong showing for himself by rallying late to keep it close. Lomachenko has since rebounded with a pair of dominant wins over top competition until a 2022 decision win over Jamaine Ortiz had some questioning whether he was finally slowing down after being hit more cleanly than fans and critics have been accustomed to. So how did Lomachenko respond to the whispers? By seeking out Haney to not only try and win back his old titles but to add a fourth and fulfill a long held dream of becoming an undisputed champion, which became difficult in his previous divisions because of how regularly he was avoided.
3. Haney remains motivated by a four-year grudge
Given the cordial and respectful nature both fighters typically operate with, it might be surprising to hear that Haney told Top Rank’s prefight documentary cameras that he was motivated to retire Lomachenko. “He made me wait four years to fight, since I was 20 years old,” Haney said on “Blood, Sweat & Tears” this week. “So I don’t like Loma. I want to beat him, bad.” The beef in question dates back to 2019 when Haney, upon acquiring the WBC interim title, became the mandatory challenger to Lomachenko. Haney believes Lomachenko ducked him in order to chase a fight with Lopez, although Haney’s status at the time as a Matchroom Sport-promoted fighter on DAZN made the prospects of the bout difficult to make since both Lopez and Lomachenko were signed exclusively to ESPN. Still, Haney has kept the wound from fully healing and has used the four-year old allegations as fuel in the build to this weekend’s fight.
4. Despite everything Lomachenko has accomplished, this would be his best win
Aside from the already historical elements of the fight, fueled by Lomachenko’s desire to finally become undisputed champion, the fact that he’s the betting underdog against such a complete young fighter only raises the stakes for Lomachenko at 35. A victory here would very easily be the most impressive of his 20-bout pro career, which is saying a lot considering his accomplishments and the many elite names he has already conquered. But as Haney said it himself in the build to the fight, he believes all of the odds are stacked against Lomachenko as the smaller and older fighter against a huge lightweight who just might hold advantages in both power and speed, to boot. Lomachenko has certainly overcome size differences before but never has he faced such a complete fighter with this much size and smarts. Lomachenko will need to rely almost exclusively on his vast experience by setting traps and he must be sure not to start too late in going on the attack like he did against Lopez. Make no mistake, Lomachenko is already a first-ballot Hall-of-Fame boxer for everything he accomplished both as an amateur and pro, but a victory here would be an incredible cherry on the sundae.
5. A Haney victory could make him boxing’s biggest free agent
At the tail end of his three-fight deal with Top Rank and ESPN, both Haney and his father/trainer/manager Bill could very well find themselves in the driver’s seat when it comes to boxing’s business side of things should he get past Lomachenko. Given the fact that so many of the sport’s young and dynamic stars operate at 135 and 140 pounds, Haney should have no shortage of major suitors from boxing’s biggest promoters and networks. Should he choose the PBC/Showtime route, there are potential PPV showdowns against Davis or Rolly Romero, along with top-flight opposition in the form of Frank Martin. ESPN and Top Rank offer not just a Stevenson clash but the winner of Josh Taylor against Lopez for a 140-pound title in June. And a return to DAZN could offer Haney a shot against amateur rival Ryan Garcia, along with recently signed 140-pound titleholder Regis Prograis. Being young and unbeaten has its privileges but so does being the undisputed champion of such a red-hot division when you are just 24 and fresh off of handing someone as revered as Lomachenko just his third pro defeat.