Last night saw a big win both for the boxer they call “The Dream,” and for the increasingly precarious enterprise that is professional prizefighting. Undefeated lightweight titlist Devin Haney is no longer untested, no longer suspect, and his name is no longer a punch line for jokes about meaningless title belts in 21st century boxing. No one can deny he showed tremendous skills, resilience and poise in taking a unanimous decision win over ex-champ Jorge Linares in Las Vegas last night, in the process making himself a much more attractive and marketable fighter. And maybe, just maybe, creating the circumstances for what could be one of the year’s best fights, one to pump new blood, literally and figuratively, into a sport that desperately needs it.
More and more, boxing moves at a glacial pace, a fact only made more evident by a global pandemic. Fans are usually far ahead of the fighters and the different promotional players in terms of eyeing the most exciting and appealing duels and potential rivalries. Add in the fact that top boxers are locked into binding promotional agreements greatly restricting their career options, plus the generally agreed-upon notion that elite-level boxers should compete only two or three times per year, and you have a situation of widespread stagnancy. More and more, boxing is about what might happen, what could happen, what we wish would happen — not what happens. And it doesn’t even matter anymore what the degree of interest is, the potential riches to be won.
To illustrate, back in 2018 Terence Crawford vs Errol Spence Jr. represented a huge cargo ship full of cash, more than enough to go around. It may be easy to forget now, but there was serious buzz for that fight, and not just in boxing. Spence vs Crawford had crossover appeal, keen global interest. But instead of seizing the opportunity, Bob Arum and Al Haymon and all the other players shrugged their shoulders and casually watched all that moolah just float away while boxing fans wept and gnashed their teeth in frustration. In the time since, the reputations of both welterweights have suffered, and instead of a must-watch, high-stakes fight that everyone wants to see, not to mention a possible high-interest rivalry, Spence vs Crawford is now an after-thought.
The point is, fight fans can’t take anything for granted, no matter how enticing or lucrative a match-up may appear to be. Which is why I’m saying it’s crucial to start beating the drums now for a showdown in the lightweight division that represents both a marquee clash of great consequence, and a match that, at least on the surface, seems plausible, not a pipe dream, not destined to be tossed on the ash heap of fights that got away. I’m talking Devin Haney vs Teofimo Lopez, “The Dream” vs “The Takeover,” for all the belts and bragging rights in the lightweight division.
The timing is just about perfect. Ryan Garcia is sidelined with mental health issues and, fair or not, Vasiliy Lomachenko’s star has seriously dimmed after his less-than-inspiring effort against Teofimo. Last night’s big win over Linares means no one can question that Haney and Lopez are the top dogs at 135 pounds and a clash between the two represents the kind of best vs best showdown which boxing always needs, now more than ever. And while Haney is committed to Eddie Hearn and DAZN, Lopez is potentially a free agent, no longer tied down to only working with Bob Arum and Top Rank.
The only fly in the ointment so to speak is that for Haney vs Lopez to happen, first Teofimo must get past George Kambosos Jr. on June 19th. And while Lopez is a clear favorite, this is not exactly a “gimme fight.” The New Yorker had better be dialed in and not suffering from any post-victory hangover after his huge win over “Hi-Tech” last October. But assuming his formidable blend of speed, aggressiveness and power are too much for the Australian, an impressive win in Miami next month will only further whet appetites for a Haney vs Lopez showdown.
So how does one evaluate this potential match-up? Who deserves to be viewed as the favorite? Or does it matter? Part of why I’m stoked for this particular fight is what I saw last night. Yes, Haney showed impressive skills, not to mention excellent hand speed and reflexes, as he took at least eight rounds from the battle-tested Linares. But at the same time, he showed vulnerability when Jorge shook him at the end of round ten with a hard right hand. The shot landed seconds before round’s end and had Haney doing the “Harlem Shuffle” as he journeyed back to his corner. There’s few things more exciting than a talented boxer who likes to let his hands go, but at the same time can be rocked. Teofimo has the power to test Devin and Haney vs Lopez has the makings of a thriller.
Add to that the fact both fighters have years ahead of them and if they do throw down, we might end up with a rivalry that could stretch over into the super lightweight and welterweight divisions. Yes, I know, I’m getting ahead of myself, setting myself up for more pain and disappointment courtesy of the fickle boxing gods, but still, no one can argue that Haney vs Lopez represents something potentially special. And I say the fans need to talk up Haney vs Lopez now and start building the excitement, and maybe, just maybe, one of the best fights the sport can offer will happen before the year is out. As they say, hope springs eternal.
At least Haney is saying the right things. After scoring the biggest win of his career last night, he declared: “If Teofimo Lopez is next, let’s do it.” Sounds great to me.
Bottom line: the time is right. After Lopez takes care of business next month, let’s hope all of boxing gets on the same page. Haney vs Lopez is the fight we want to see, no marinating required. — Neil Crane