This Saturday, on DAZN, rising 135-pound champion Devin Haney (25-0, 15 KOs) faces his toughest test to date. At 35 years of age, Jorge Linares (47-5, 29 KOs) may be past his best.
However, Haney and boxing fans should remember that he is only a few years and four fights removed from giving Vasyl Lomachenko (14-2, 10 KOs) all he could handle.
Devin Haney, at only 22 years of age, burst onto the scene in the mid 2010’s. He made his professional debut a month after turning 17. Due to minimum age requirements, many of his early bouts were in Mexico, and against nondescript opposition.
But he was always destined for bigger things. His American debut coming on the low undercard of Manny Pacquiao‘s third bout with Timothy Bradley is evidence of that. Prospects get extra opportunities, and Devin has undoubtedly made his count.
Through no fault of his own, Haney has received a fair amount of criticism from other high level 135-pounders. Most notably, newly crowned undisputed champion, Teofimo Lopez has taken to calling Haney the “email champion of the world.” This is an allusion to the fact that Haney didn’t beat a champion to win the WBC belt he now holds.
When Vasyl Lomachenko was upgraded to the WBC “Franchise Champion” – a nonsensical designation–Haney was given the “vacant” regular title, having already held the interim belt. He should not be criticized for this. He has only ever beaten the opponents in front of him, and is taking a step up in class in his 23rd bout. This should be praised.
If the ever-deepening alphabet soup of world titles is confusing to you, then don’t worry. It only means you’re paying attention.
Now, onto Jorge Linares. The four-time, three-division champion isn’t short on confidence leading into this fight. Last month, on an episode of the Round By Round Boxing Podcast, he had this to say:
“Lightweight, right now, is a very, very tough division. There are a lot of good boxers, but social media gets in the way. All of the fighters talk too much. Devin Haney, before he made the fight with me, talked too much.”
– Jorge Linares, Round By Round Boxing Podcast
It’s hard to disagree with his assessment. Since Teofimo Lopez (16-0, 12 KOs) lifted the undisputed title from Lomachenko last fall, there has been a lot of talk amongst the big dogs at 135 pounds.
As of this writing, no fights between Lopez, Lomachenko, Gervonta Davis, Ryan Garcia or Devin Haney have been made. Obviously, everyone can’t fight a top guy EVERY time out.
They would either run out of credible opposition or run their body–and career–into the ground. Take your pick. But Linares’ point is well-met.
Jorge Linares is unique. Though he was born in Venezuela, the fighter moved to Tokyo, Japan to begin his professional career. Like his next opponent, he made his debut on foreign soil – at age 17. He has a perfect set of physical attributes for the sport. Wide shoulders and long arms, coupled with his blinding hand speed, combine to generate leverage and lightning combinations which are maddening to deal with as an opponent.
His one issue through his career has been durability. All five of his losses are by stoppage – four by KO or TKO, and one on cuts. You either have to catch Linares early, as Pablo Cesar Cano did in 2019 (video credit to DAZN), or weather the storm and eventually time him with a good series of shots. If Haney is able to definitively outbox Linares, it would be a statement, stoppage or not.
It’s hard to imagine this fight being boring, for as long as it lasts. Jorge Linares is coming in with something to prove – that he still belongs on a world level. Devin Haney, meanwhile, wants to legitimize his position as a champion.
Devin Haney’s stylistic breakdown is an interesting one. He doesn’t have the eye-popping skills of his top Lightweight compatriots. He doesn’t have the one-punch knockout power of “Tank” Davis, nor quite the explosiveness of Teofimo, nor the raw speed of Garcia (although, he has two wins over Garcia in the amateurs.)
What he does have is elite timing, and a fantastic sense for putting combinations together at the right moment. Both were on full display in his last fight against former Featherweight king Yuriorkis Gamboa (30-4, 18 KOs.)
The one recent knock on Haney has been his inability to finish overmatched opponents. His last two fights have gone the distance despite him handily winning every round of each. Taking your foot off the gas against someone like Linares can be a huge miscalculation.
With his remaining hand speed at 35, he is still someone who can win rounds by simply being busy. It isn’t beyond him to land a few flashy combinations to steal rounds late.
Jorge Linares should have a number of good moments in this fight, regardless of the outcome. But, as we hear again and again in boxing, Father Time is undefeated. Linares’ primary asset – speed – is the first thing to go in all athletes. Even if it has only slipped a few percentage points, it could turn a difficult test for Haney into a walk in the park.
Devin Haney knows that, with this bout, he is auditioning for a marquee, pay per view-level fight with one of the other big names at 135 pounds. Expect him to be locked in from the opening bell. Linares’ elite speed comes with a propensity to stand in the pocket just a little too long. With Haney’s timing and defensive skill, that could make him an easy target.
Expect fiery exchanges early on in this Lightweight title tilt. Linares will likely be the more aggressive fighter early, as Haney looks to time him. As the fight progresses, Haney should be able to adjust and begin regularly landing telling shots. At that point, it may be a question of how long Linares’ chin can hold.
The longer the fight goes, the more it will be compared to Linares’ losing effort against Vasyl Lomachenko in 2018. This could be great for Haney if he is able to stop Linares in impressive fashion. He could leverage beating a common opponent of Lomachenko’s more memorably, in order to get big fights in the division.
If it turns into a dull chess match that goes the distance, it will be easy for the other top fighters at Lightweight to avoid him.
His skill presents a challenge for any of them, but a lackluster performance on Saturday would make selling future fights with him more difficult. That would lead to less revenue in his next fight, no matter the opponent. Remember, boxing is a business.
Haney, at just 22, is hungry to make his mark and advance to bigger things as soon as he possibly can. Linares, for his part, desperately needs this win to stay relevant. Expect both to show up in a big way this weekend.