Devin Haney fought two different battles on Saturday night.
On one front, the 22-year-old lightweight champion wanted to defend his WBC belt against Jorge Linares, a veteran former champion who still has great respect in the sport. Haney, on the flip side, had to show why he’s worthy of a fight against some of the other big names in the £ 135 division.
Haney achieved at least one of these things. He defeated Linares by the unanimous decision to remain undefeated and fight for a big fight against another top name in the division.
But was Haney’s performance enough to improve his career over the long term?
Let’s recap what’s next for Haney and Linares after their fight in Las Vegas.
Who should Haney fight next?
In a pre-fight interview, Haney complained that other top lightweights didn’t necessarily queue up to face him. Haney also said that since he holds the WBC belt and ranks among the top 135 pound fighters, he shouldn’t be the one to convince everyone they deserve a fight against a great opponent.
While Haney takes a fair stand, the counter-argument that led to this fight was also compelling. Haney has tremendous technical skills, but as a price fighter, one could argue that Haney was a high risk, low reward opponent for fighters like Teofimo Lopez, Ryan Garcia, or Vasiliy Lomachenko.
On Saturday, Haney fought like he had something to prove. He was ready to stand in front of Linares and throw some big punches – a noble strategy that cost Haney when he was caught with a big right hand at the end of round 10.
At that moment it was easy to empathize with Haney. He spent the whole night doing what everyone asked of him, leading the fight straight to Linares and not just trying to outmaneuver him. When Haney got tangled up with the risk that came with this type of fight – and went defensive for the last two rounds – he was chastised for it.
Regardless of the perception of Haney’s bulging finish as he survived the final two rounds, he did more than enough to keep his belt on, proving that he deserves a rift on a big name.
And why not Lopez? Lopez will face George Kambosos Jr in a mandatory title defense on June 19th. Lopez, who has the other three major belts in the division, can face Haney and officially become the undisputed champion, and then Lopez can do whatever he wants .
It’s a big fight that would generate a lot of interest in boxing and has the potential to be commercially successful. It’s the kind of fight that could tell us a lot about how Haney and Lopez are getting on.
Can Haney beat one of the “big” lightweights?
The other top names in the £ 135 division are familiar to most boxing fans – Lopez, Garcia, Lomachenko, and Gervonta “Tank” Davis.
Haney’s biggest mistake is his lack of power against good opponents. He didn’t seem to hurt Linares significantly and didn’t knock down a faded Yuriorkis Gamboa in their fight last year.
Even so, Haney is still so fast and technically solid that it’s impossible to rule him out against the division’s top fighters. Outside of Lomachenko, Haney is arguably the best pure boxer of all lightweights. Haney demonstrated that he can stay and move and trade shots when he feels like it, and he can win rounds almost effortlessly. The big question, as we’ve seen against Linares, is whether Haney can take the big blow and have the strength to be effective at the highest level.
What should Linares do now?
This question is not easy to answer. It’s hard to say Linares should quit after rallying against Haney over the last three rounds. However, when anyone looked at all of the work, Linares was clearly outdone by someone who was much faster and sharper.
And what has Linares got outside now? He was ESPN’s # 7 lightweight on Saturday night, a ranking that seems fair after the Haney fight. It’s hard to imagine that Linares, who will turn 36 in August, could beat any of the current champions.
But he’s still good enough to make at least one more payday against a quality opponent. A potential Lomachenko rematch is not a bad option if Lomachenko defeats Masayoshi Nakatani, provided Lomachenko is looking for someone else to beat before fighting for a world title again. Or if Linares wants to get a win, he could face one of the many middle-class lightweights with names like Nakatani, Richard Commey and Javier Fortuna. What’s left of Linares’ career is enough for an exciting fight.