On Saturday night, May 29, 2021, Devin “The Dream” Haney (26-0, 15 KOs) and Jorge Linares (47-6, 29 KOs) helped kick off Las Vegas’ reopening to the masses with their world title bout in the Michelob ULTRA Arena at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
Haney, defending his belt for the third time, entered the fight following a one sided (yet regularly ridiculed) unanimous decision win over Yuriorkis Gamboa. Many believed Haney needed to prove himself as a true champion in the first place, holding the fact that he was unable to finish the older and smaller Gamboa against him. Saturday’s bout with Linares presented a perfect opportunity to remove that doubt.
While Haney’s talents, skills and potential are never questioned, his claim to a legitimate title is. He won his WBC title by way of an interim belt that was later elevated to “Regular” without a fight (a situation outside of Haney’s control). One could even make the case that the young contender, only 20 years old at the time, was being avoided by some of the division’s elite.
Haney, now 22, looked across the ring at a well respected, former three division world champion that offered exactly what he coveted: championship credibility.
A win of any fashion against Linares would be enough to cement Haney’s status amongst the elite, but a spectacular performance, particularly a finish, would place him firmly amidst the titans of a loaded division.
Linares, on the other hand, approached the fight with incredible focus. While he may have been presented as the perfect opponent for Devin Haney, Linares had a singular goal: reclaim gold.
Following a knockout loss at Super Lightweight, Linares returned to the Lightweight ranks, a weight class in which he experienced the heights of his career’s success. Since the return to the division, the former champ won his two fights leading into Saturday’s contest.
In regards to the matchup, Linares didn’t buy into the hype of himself as the heavy underdog, even (jokingly) suggesting to some of his supporters to “bet the house.”
Haney and Linares entered the ring with each obtaining exactly what their opponent needed for their respective career’s. For Linares, Haney was his chance to reclaim a piece of Lightweight supremacy. For Haney, Linares was a legitimate Lightweight title threat offering championship pedigree.
Haney clearly didn’t need reminded of that.
In the first round, Haney took control of the ring with a stiff jab up top as well as sticking it to the body of Linares to keep him at bay. Haney banked a number of early body shots, with both hands, in the opening round.
Linares, clearing needed to make a game plan change after only the first round , came out in the second round much more aggressive. In doing so, he left himself open to more of Haney’s power shots as he continued to control the fight.
In the third, Haney began to land even more regularly with his power shots, notably knocking Linares off balance with a strong right hand to the head. Aside from the offense, Haney’s defense was equally impressive early on as he rarely subjected himself to any of Linares’ offense.
In the sixth round, Haney removed the distance and began to in-fight with Linares. Most notably and effectively, Haney utilized the left hook and right uppercut to continue to control the contest.
After a round of controlling the action in the 10th, Linares exploded with a combination that severely rocked the young champion as the round ended.
Haney wobbled into the 11th round as Linares continued with his pressure. However, as the round progressed, Haney seemingly found his footing.
Despite being rocked, Haney controlled the action for the majority of the fight with his diversified attack. Haney was well on his way to sending exactly the type of message he had hoped for, but his getting hurt undoubtedly soured the performance to at least some degree.
To Linares’ credit, many fighters could have packed it in in a fight that wasn’t going his way, but Linares has always been known as a warrior and proved it yet again Saturday night.
At the end of the day, Haney improved to 26-0 and defended his WBC title in a mostly dominant performance against a game and experienced Linares. The win will likely set up some of the big fights in the Lightweight division that boxing fans desire. It wouldn’t be impossible to consider the potential of a rematch considering how the fight ended.