With Lomachenko in sight, fighting for an interim title 'means everything' to Devin Haney

Combat columnist
Yahoo Sports
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/ncaaf/players/287806/" data-ylk="slk:Devin Haney">Devin Haney</a> punches Antonio Moran during their WBC and WBO Inter-Continental lightweight championship fight at The Theater at MGM National Harbor on May 25, 2019 in National Harbor, Maryland. (Will Newton/Getty Images)
Devin Haney punches Antonio Moran during their WBC and WBO Inter-Continental lightweight championship fight at The Theater at MGM National Harbor on May 25, 2019 in National Harbor, Maryland. (Will Newton/Getty Images)

Devin Haney isn’t fond of the word most often used to describe him.

Though he’s still more than two months away from his 21st birthday, the unbeaten lightweight from Las Vegas believes he left prospect status in the rearview mirror long ago.

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Instead of calling him a prospect, it’s fair to say he’s one of the elite boxers 22 and younger in the world.

“He has skills to burn,” Haney promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sport said. “He has all it takes to be the next biggest fighter in the United States.”

Haney has explosively fast hands and quick feet and has been making a name for himself since turning pro in 2015, a month after his 17th birthday.

He was too young to legally fight in the U.S., so he began his career fighting in Tijuana, Mexico, where his youth was not a hindrance.

And though he didn’t fight 10 complete rounds over the four fights, he said it prepared him in a way that not much else could have done.

“I went down there and learned what it took to be a pro and to fight on the road and do all those things,” Haney said. “A lot of people told me I shouldn’t go and they said it was corrupt, or whatever, and I wouldn’t get treated fairly. But I believed in my skills and my dad advised me to go. It helped me get ready for the next step in my journey.”

He went 20-0 with 13 knockouts as a teenager, and has since improved to 22-0 with 14 knockouts heading into his fight Friday at The Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York against Zaur Abdullaev for the interim WBC lightweight title in the main event of a card streamed on DAZN.

Vasiliy Lomachenko just defeated Luke Campbell last month in London to win the vacant WBC belt, so it seems odd to see an interim WBC belt at stake. But WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman told Yahoo Sports on Monday that Top Rank, Lomachenko’s promoter, said Lomachenko would not fight again this year and that his first bout in 2020 would be a unification bout with the winner of the Dec. 14 match between Richard Commey and Teofimo Lopez.

Given that, the WBC agreed to sanction Haney-Abdullaev for the interim title. It’s a pretend belt because anyone who follows the sport even marginally is aware that Lomachenko is the best in that class, but it’s important for Haney.

“The WBC interim world championship means a lot to me,” Haney said. “Some people kept labeling me a prospect when I knew I was so much more. Being able to fight for an interim world title means everything. This not only makes me the WBC mandatory for Vasiliy Lomachenko, but I'm able to do interim title defenses until Loma is ready to fight.”

It might seem a bit rushed for a 20- or a 21-year-old with limited amateur experience to be looking to fight a pound-for-pound great like Lomachenko. But Haney, who says his ring IQ “is crazy,” has already sparred many elites, including WBC welterweight champion Shawn Porter.

Haney was also one of Floyd Mayweather’s sparring partners when Mayweather was training for his 2017 fight with Conor McGregor. Mayweather can be notoriously difficult on sparring partners, and Haney said “Money May” kept setting traps, but Haney was astute enough to pick up on what Mayweather was trying.

The experience did wonders for his confidence.

“Seeing how Floyd handles his business has motivated me to work even harder,” he said. “It was a crazy experience. He was fast and he was very smart. He was setting traps for me, but I felt like I held my own.”

If he gets past Abdullaev, he’ll soon have the opportunity to fight one of the world’s elite talents.

And that, Haney said, is why he got into the sport.

“If you’re not trying to prove you’re the best, what’s the point?” he said. “I feel I’m ready so I’m not looking for tune-ups or easy fights. If I fight the best, that’s the best way to prove myself and what I’m all about.”

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