LAS VEGAS — Devin Haney may have won the battle with a controversial unanimous decision victory over Vasiliy Lomachenko to remain the undisputed lightweight champion, but judging by the reactions at the MGM Grand Garden Arena and on social media, he has a long way to go to win the war for respect.
Although the 24-year-old showcased new and unseen wrinkles in his game to turn back a former three-division champion, former pound-for-pound king and arguably the greatest amateur boxer in history, there are still questions about just how good Haney truly is.
To make matters worse, the likes of Gervonta Davis and Shakur Stevenson will be favored over him despite Lomachenko being far better than any opponent either fighter has faced.
“I proved myself tonight against a future hall of famer that I’m the guy in the weight class,” Haney said afterwards. “How much more do you want me to prove?”
Unfortunately, a lot more. And that’s just kind of the way it goes for a fighter like Haney.
Over the past few years, all Haney has been trying to do was to be respected as one of the best boxers in the world. Despite being an undefeated young prospect turned undisputed lightweight champion, respect from fans, fighters and boxing pundits had always appeared to be just out of reach. He was called an “e-mail champ” after he was elevated from interim WBC 135-pound champion to full champion when Vasiliy Lomachenko was stripped and elevated to “franchise champion.” And then he chased after every name at lightweight despite being the champion. He challenged Teofimo Lopez, Gervonta Davis, Ryan Garcia and repeatedly called out Lomachenko for a fight.
Nobody would answer his calls until they had to.
After Haney defeated George Kambosos twice in Australia to cement his place as the undisputed lightweight champion, fans still questioned if he had an easier road to undisputed than other fighters. Rather than take on a lesser opponent, Haney ended up finally getting Lomachenko to answer the call.
In a fight four years in the making, Haney and Lomachenko engaged in a high-octane chess battle with ebbs and flows as both the challenger and champion refused to allow their opponent to settle into their game plan. In the end, Haney won but the feeling of being considered the best was short-lived as social media lit up with vitriol toward the decision while Haney’s boxing peers questioned whether or not he deserved to win the fight. Ringside onlookers also found it difficult to put a stamp on Haney as the best lightweight in the world as Shakur Stevenson is waiting in the wings for his opportunity.
What Haney is going to have to realize is that he will never satisfy his naysayers in totality. He may convert a few here and there with each performance but the overwhelming consensus is that being the undisputed lightweight champion doesn’t automatically make him the best lightweight in the world.
Not when he hasn’t fought Gervonta Davis or Shakur Stevenson. And if he beats them, guess what? There will be more fighters that people say are better. It never ends.
“What do you want?” Haney asked incredulously. “Keeping proving and proving and proving until I can’t prove anymore?”
Yes. That’s what the doubters want you to do. No, it’s not proving anything. It’s paying them attention and letting them know that you are affected by their words. It’s an impossible mission.
It’s a reality that comes with Haney and his fighting style. He doesn’t always win fights definitively (by knockout) so there’s always going to be some kind of question about his success and whether or not he’s as good as advertised.
Floyd Mayweather dealt with something similar around the time he faced Jose Luis Castillo as a 25-year-old for his 28th victory in 2002. It was a fight that many thought he lost and still hangs over his head to this day. This was before he became “Money” Mayweather and the megastar we know today. He wasn’t the biggest draw nor was he widely recognized as the best fighter in the world. So what did Mayweather do? He kept winning and realized that people were more interested in paying to see him lose than paying to watch him win.
He took that all the way to the bank.
Granted, Haney has a long way to go to become anything close to Mayweather but there are undeniable similarities. Getting his just due is never going to come easy despite the accolades that he continues to pile up at the ripe young age of 24. He hasn’t hit his physical prime yet he is undisputed.
Unfortunately, barely beating one of the best fighters in the world is going to come with questions. Rational or not, that’s just how this sport works. If Haney would have blown Lomachenko out, it would have been because the 35-year-old was over the hill.
Sometimes, there’s no winning in boxing. All he can do is continue to chase the dragon, pile up the accolades and watch his bank account swell. Winning in the ring is all that matters. Fighting the doubters has never won anybody anything.