LAS VEGAS – Facing his fiercest competition to date, Devin Haney came of age with the best performance of his career.
Haney, 23, retained his WBC lightweight title with a unanimous decision victory over Joseph Diaz Jr. on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Haney conquered the judges (117-111, 116-112 and 117-111) with superior activity, a free kick and a clean punch. Above all, Haney set the pace. He consistently beat Diaz with the punch, and when pressed on the ropes, he usually pivoted out of harm’s way and on the attack.
But Haney (27-0, 15 KOs) did not take the victory after taking a sizable lead. He was forced to overcome some tough times, especially in the last round after Diaz (32-2-1, 15 KOs) connected on an overhanging left pack he loaded up on.
A lot of those shots hit their mark, but Haney held on. He was able to shoot a left to the body followed by a right hand to the head which kept Diaz at bay. The result was another exciting fight for Haney following criticism earlier in his career that he had played him too cautiously in the ring.
“He said he was going to take the dog out of me, and that’s exactly what he did,” said Haney, a Las Vegas resident. “He hit me with good punches. They say I don’t have a chin, but I think I showed it in this fight.”
Haney’s punch resistance has been called into question after his last performance, a May win over Jorge Linares. Haney was buckled late in the 10th round that night and was forced to face the championship rounds.
On Saturday Haney was in danger again at the end of the fight, but claimed he was never injured.
“We had a great conversation,” Haney said. “I didn’t hesitate to chat with him. I want to entertain the fans.”
Haney achieved that goal and moved closer to his ultimate mission: the undisputed lightweight championship.
George Kambosos Jr., who upset Teofimo Lopez a week ago in New York City, had a front row seat in Las Vegas to spot his next potential foe.
“I saw a lot of stuff,” said Kambosos, who owns four 135-pound titles. “I’ve been studying this guy for many years. I know exactly what to do if this fight is next.”
Kambosos, 28, also mentioned other potential opponents and said he was looking forward to watching Sunday’s lightweight game between Gervonta Davis and Isaac Cruz in Los Angeles, followed by the Vasiliy Lomachenko-Richard Commey clash. next Saturday in New York.
“It depends on what turns me on the most,” he said.
Regardless of Kambosos’ choice, he made one point clear: the fight will take place in his native Australia.
“I’ll go to Jupiter if I get there,” Haney said. “Come on, George Kambosos, let’s do it for all belts. The undisputed real [champion]. Then let’s do it. No more arguing with who the WBC champion is. “
On Saturday the three judges agreed on the first eight rounds of the fight: Haney won all rounds except rounds 4 and 7. He did so with a precise jab that controlled distance and used his full range advantage. seven inches.
Haney was also a lot more aggressive than usual. He applied pressure, but when Diaz tried to fight on the inside, Haney took a step back and pulled a combination.
Finally in Round 4, the fight broke out as Diaz, 28, was able to assert himself. He made him ugly in the clinch and let go with some melee punches.
Haney managed to fend off Diaz once more, but Diaz broke through again in the seventh. He punished Haney with a left handshake that connected squarely on the chin. Adjustment: Diaz waited for Haney to throw a right hand, then countered over it.
But just like he did after the fourth, Haney found his balance again. By the time Diaz unleashed his final flurry in Round 12, he needed a knockout.
“I was trying to dictate to the body, to try to break it down,” Diaz said. “I ended up failing… but it was an entertaining fight for the fight fans.… I’m just going to learn from it, adapt to it and improve myself.”
Diaz added, “It’s not the end of me, I always want to challenge the best. I feel great at 135 pounds. I think I’ll stay at this weight.”
In the loss, Diaz increased his stock, according to Kambosos, and it’s understandable why. Diaz pushed Haney to the brink and never stopped coming forward. He did so despite having a badly swollen face and a cut in his left eye. Above all, Diaz has proven that he is truly ready to fight anyone, a rarity in the fighting game.
The Southern Californian entered the year as the 130-pound champion, but lost his title in February after failing to put on weight. He fought to a draw with Shavkat Rakhimov, then beat contender Javier Fortuna in July, his maiden trip at 135 pounds.
With the fiery effort against Haney, Diaz will surely win more meaningful fights. But Haney is on the line for even greater opportunities.
The 2021 breakout campaign has proven that Haney can box as well as he fights and is worth the tremendous hype that has swirled around him for years.
“Every time he steps in, it’s a performance beyond his years,” Haney promoter Eddie Hearn said.
As Kambosos travels to Los Angeles to observe Davis up close, Hearn returns to England with an eye on May and the prospect of a Kambosos-Haney tilt in Australia that could crown the young boxer king of the lightweight.
“I will push for these [marquee] fight as long as I can, but if these guys just don’t fight me I will go to 140 [pounds]Haney said. “I want to test myself. I want to fight the so-called best fighters out there. I’m not dodging or dodging anyone. “