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I have seen some get confused by interim WBC lightweight champion Devin Haney’s position in the sport of boxing, so I thought this article could be used as a good reference point for future discussions. 

Before we enter this discussion, let’s define some key terms in boxing development which are a prospect, a contender and a champion.

A prospect is someone who has faced limited competition, the ceiling of their career is unclear and they have yet to face top-15 opposition determined by a sanctioning body. Essentially they’re fighting early on the card or near the top against overmatched opposite to show off their strengths.

A contender is someone who is ranked in the top 15 any of the four major sanctioning bodies and is fighting world-ranked opposition as set forth by the sanctioning bodies. The fighters potential is unknown, but an assessment of their talent can be established based upon fights with former contenders and experienced fighters.

A world champion holds one of the four belts and makes mandatory defenses set up by the sanctioning body, with voluntary defenses sprinkled in. 

By this definition, Haney doesn’t fit the criteria of a prospect as he is ranked by each sanctioning body at lightweight and just fought a mandatory opponent in Zaur Abdullaev, who the WBC appointed as a fighter worthy for Haney to fight for the WBC interim lightweight world title. A prospect quite simply doesn’t fight for world titles nor do they typically take on challengers appointed a bipartisan committee in the spirit of competition.

The major issues I see are three things: 1) age, 2) familiarly and 3) accessibility, which is causing a disconnect for some with Haney. Let’s get into it.

Let’s start with age. Haney is 20-years-old and despite a 23-0 record with 15KOs, many will simply look at his age and deem him a prospect, since Haney more than likely has ten or so more years in the sport plus he is really young. Though Haney is nowhere near where he might be in five years, Haney is also meeting a set criteria that sets him apart from prospects, as he is headlining cards, fighting opposition set by sanctioning bodies, and fighting former world title contenders case and point, Juan Carlos Burgos. None of the following are traits a prospect typically have to deal with.

Secondly, let’s talk about familiarity. Haney’s last five opponents have been quality in Mason Menard, Juan Carlos Burgos, Xolisani Ndongeni, Antonio Moran and Zaur Abdullaev. For example, Menard co-headlined an HBO card against Ray Beltran on HBO, in a fight that Menard was heavily favored in. Burgos fought for a world title against Mikey Garcia, Ndongeni was undefeated fighter looking for a big opportunity and Zaur Abdullaev was your traditional Eastern European being fast-tracked with tons of power. In short, each fighter was in theory dangerous, Haney just made them look average.

Why aren’t these brought up? Well, most of those who watch boxing casually just don’t care. Those names are high-level fighters who have lost in their big fights and/or have not been televised much if at all in the United States. That translates to some as, “not good”, which is unfair to Haney, and his skill set. 

For Haney’s last fight, Haney brutalized Abdullaev, whom he made look like a punching bag, but despite not taking damage and making an undefeated fighter look bad, a major narrative was the lack of skill in Abdullaev, which we have no baseline to view as a valid critique, since Abdullaev has not fought much as a pro. Haney stayed composed, picked his shots and didn’t let the slugger punch, causing a fourth-round stoppage.  

The third is, probably unpopular, but I am finding it to be true, it is the platform. Haney’s career has been behind a paywall of one kind or another up until this point. His first U.S. based bout was on Showtime, a premium cable channel, and now Haney fights on DAZN, a streaming sports app. Neither of these platforms, are all-inclusive or lead to the person just finding the fight by accident (which I am learning is becoming less and less of a thing). Essentially, you have to have a subscription, and more than likely you have the subscription for both platforms, based on your love of boxing.

Haney is amongst the leaders of the new generation of boxers including, but not limited to, Gabriel Flores Jr., Shakur Stevenson, Karlos Balderas, Jaron Ennis, Teofimo Lopez, and other young talented future stars. 

What makes Haney interesting is that he has promoted himself using social media platforms, showing aspects of his life as well as sparring sessions that give people a candid look at his life. Haney has the talent to be a star, but he also has a brand to reach people who are not avid fight fans, which is a key component of being a star. 

Haney is very clearly a champion now, holding the same form of a WBC title that Regis Prograis has proudly brandished to public appearances with little criticism, yet Haney isn’t even being acknowledged as a world champion except by a few knowledgable writers. It is quite odd.

Haney is a special fighter, athletic like a football player, and a thinker in the ring, like a world-class chess player. I truly believe until Haney meets one of the special fighters of the era, every fight will look easy since Haney is that talented. 

This piece is simply written to give people context to Devin Haney, who is currently a world champion, though a smaller version of the world title, as Vasyl Lomachenko, holds the outright title, and if nothing less a contender, as he occupies top spots in each sanctioning body. 

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Lukie Ketelle

Lukie Ketelle