Haney vs Loma: It’s About Legacy

If Gervonta Davis vs Ryan Garcia was the hors d’oeuvre, this Saturday’s title defense by Devin “The Dream” Haney against former champion Vasiliy “The Matrix” Lomachenko is the main course for fight fans and today’s lightweight division. Haney vs Loma has it all: a hungry, young champ eagerly knocking on the door of boxing stardom, a proud but aging ex-champ desperate to show he’s still the pound-for-pound phenom he once was, and the added benefit that there is absolutely zero ambiguity that the winner of this match-up will be recognized as the undisputed, lineal king of one of the hottest divisions in boxing.

Haney vs Lopez
Haney: a hungry, young champion.

Since Teofimo Lopez stunned the boxing world in 2020 by unifying the lightweight division for the first time since Pernell Whitaker did in 1990 with a clear-cut points victory over Lomachenko, the undisputed title has changed hands twice. First, George Kambosos emerged from the land down under to score a stunning upset victory over Lopez, dropping the unbeaten “Takeover” and gritting it out late to win a split decision. Then, Devin Haney finally put an end to the farcical distinction between WBC world and “franchise” champion (whatever that is) by dominating Kambosos twice in the Aborigine’s native land to become “the man” at 135.

Lomachenko vs Lopez
Lomachenko: a proud ex-champ.

It’s rare now to see young boxers take such risks this early in their careers, as a 23-year-old Haney could have bided his time under the Matchroom banner with his WBC belt, continuing to extend his unbeaten record against worthy yet beatable opposition like JoJo Diaz and Jorge Linares. But “The Dream,” like Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia, was willing to face a serious risk in an effort to cement his legacy, rather than merely pad his bank account and social media following. And now, in his first voluntary defense of the lightweight crown (the Kambosos rematch was contractually obligated), Haney is taking on clearly one of the most dangerous contenders in Lomachenko.

There is a credible case to be made that Loma is past his prime, given his 35 years of age, his numerous injuries and associated layoffs, his nearly 400-bout amateur career, and a close call in his last bout against relatively unheralded prospect Jamaine Ortiz. You can also make the case that “The Matrix” has never been a true lightweight, as the first signs that he was a mere mortal in the squared circle arose when he moved up to 135 and struggled in victories over Jorge Linares and Jose Pedraza before his defeat against Teo in 2020.

Nominations 2020
Lomachenko falls to Lopez in 2020.

However, since the Lopez loss, he has given us two of his most impressive lightweight performances against quality contenders Masayoshi Nakatani and Richard Commey. Like Haney, Lomachenko is motivated by legacy over fiscal comfort and popularity, and when the Ukrainian patriot could have assured himself of less risky match-ups by moving down to 130 after it appeared that the writing was on the wall against Teo, instead “The Matrix” immediately pursued a rematch. Only when that was off the table did he consider other options and then he went right after a shot against an arguably more dangerous lightweight champion in Devin Haney.

Haney has made no secret that his days at 135 are numbered, and a move up to 140 is imminent. His size advantage, combined with his cunning ability to control range and distance, represent very difficult obstacles for Loma to get around, particularly as the shorter Vasiliy is giving up over five inches in reach. If the Lopez and Orlando Salido defeats taught us anything about Loma’s weaknesses, it’s that he has a tendency to shell up against bigger fighters that do not let him seize the momentum in close quarters and do his trademark brilliant work off of clever movement and angles.

Haney isn’t long for the lightweights.

In this regard, Haney can be a particularly stiff challenge for Loma, as he is arguably a more complete boxer than either Teo or Salido, though it is probably safe to say that he does not possess the same type of explosive power as Lopez. If Loma wants to avoid falling behind on points early as he did against Lopez, he will have to take more risks against Haney to cut the distance and establish his offense. If he can do this successfully, he’ll be asking some very important questions to a young, developing champion like Haney, who has largely dominated opposition at the range of his choosing.

Also, while Haney is the bigger man, he has been hurt in past performances, most notably against Linares when the bell saved him in round ten. Lomachenko is not a big one-punch knockout artist, but he is a great body puncher and, when he’s really in full flow, can be a very effective sharp-shooter. The more momentum and confidence Loma can accrue against his opponents, the more devastating a puncher he becomes, as Nakatani and Commey can attest.

Haney vs Lomachenko
For both fighters, it’s all about legacy.

By this point, Loma has revealed what he is all about in the ring. He thrives off momentum, but is vulnerable before he can establish it. The outcome of this bout, in my opinion, really hinges off of what intangibles Devin Haney has in his arsenal, namely whether he can thwart Lomachenko’s offense, inhibit him on the inside effectively, control and re-establish his range as necessary, and withstand a potential late rally from the proud ex-champion. Something tells me he has the goods to pull this off in a career-defining victory, but I would not be surprised if Lomachenko has one last great performance in him and can regain the title. I expect a technical, twelve round war of wits with spurts of brilliant action and stretches of brilliant boxing, with Haney emerging the victor via close decision.

But regardless of who wins Saturday, the lightweight division will become that much richer because of Haney vs Lomachenko, assuming each man then stays at 135 pounds. Haney, Lomachenko, “Tank” Davis and Shakur Stevenson are the four kings of the lightweight division at the moment, and with three of the four under the same promotional outfit, we can reasonably expect some mouth-watering matchups to be made in the very near future. Hopefully Haney vs Lomachenko is just the first of many.               –Alden Chodash 

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