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THE DICHOTOMY OF DEVIN HANEY

By Paul Magno | December 08, 2023
THE DICHOTOMY OF DEVIN HANEY

There’s no denying that the 25-year-old Devin Haney is a major talent. There’s also no denying his status as an ahead-of-the-curve elite-level fighter for his age. He was the legitimate, fully-unified lightweight world champion and he’s aiming to become the WBC junior welterweight champ this Saturday when he meets defending titlist Regis Prograis at Chase Center in San Francisco. 

But there are two takes on Haney that are equally legitimate-- a positive and a negative. 

On the one hand, the kid is the very definition of someone who took a big risk with his career, leaving money on the table in order to gamble on himself. 

Back in early 2022, he agreed to less money than he would’ve liked in his lightweight title unification clash with George Kambosos. He agreed to fight in Kambosos’ native Australia and signed himself over to a mandatory rematch, also in Australia. He even signed a co-promotional deal with DiBella Entertainment (Kambosos’ promoter at the time) and Top Rank to get the Kombosos deal and get the fight secured for airing on ESPN. 

He made a lot of concessions. Actually, he conceded on everything. But he made the right move. 

“To be honest, I pretty much just agreed to everything that they wanted,” Haney told Fighthype.com. “No matter what it was, we didn’t argue. We didn’t get nothing our way but we didn’t do no arguing. We just said ‘whatever we can do to make the fight happen.’ If I gotta go on there on another network, another promoter — which is my promoter now — to make the fight happen, so be it. If I gotta rematch you twice in Australia, so be it. It didn’t matter, I just wanted the belts. I want my name to be in the history books forever.

“I’m taking a lot less money that what I should be making, but it is what it is. It’s about my name being in the history books and my name being remembered and the money will come...when I get the belts, then I can write my own checks.”

Up until the Kambosos opportunity, his career had taken an almost Demetrius Andrade-like vibe to it. With illogical and hyper-inflated purse expectations (thanks to then-broadcaster, streaming service DAZN) and, realistically, limited drawing power (also thanks to DAZN), he remained all risk-little reward to the top fighters in his weight range. His boardroom WBC title offered little incentive for any “name” opponent to accept the risk of taking him on. 

Gambling on himself was a ballsy move and a necessary one if he wanted to achieve next-level success. His moves serve as a real career life lesson to fighters who cry about being avoided and about not getting the big-fight opportunities they feel they deserve. Haney went and humbled himself in the present tense in order to grab at greatness later.  

His decision back in 2022 led to the opportunity to unify all four 135 lb. titles, a subsequent pay-per-view clash with Vasiliy Lomachenko, and now this upcoming pay-per-view contest with Prograis. Without making the sacrifices to get the Kambosos fight, he might still be fighting second tier challengers, chasing stars.

But here comes the second take on Devin Haney, which is equally as relevant as the first.

Haney is still a work in progress and one who sometimes trends towards a practical, but cynical “do just enough to win” mindset that makes one doubt whether true greatness is in the cards for him. 

Against Kambosos, both times, Haney was extraordinarily adequate. He didn’t perform brilliantly, but he didn’t have to. The little that he had to unleash from his arsenal-- jab, grab, basic movement--  was enough to completely nullify Kambosos. At times, he looked to be performing on cruise control. He never pushed things to truly establish his dominance. This, despite it being very obvious that he was the far superior fighter. That doesn’t exactly scream “greatness.” The great ones drill home their greatness. Haney just did enough to get the “W”-- an approach that made him look more like Devon Alexander than Terence Crawford. 

Against Lomachenko, Haney performed better and with more urgency in a bout which had lots of ebbs and flows in momentum (and one which many thought Lomachenko actually won). How much of that increased urgency, though, was due to the pressure from Lomachenko? Probably, lots.

This Saturday, we’ll probably see the same Devin Haney we always see-- controlled, efficient, well-prepared, and a young man who’s made all the right business moves to get to where he’s currently at. But we’ll also likely see the other Devin Haney-- conservative, careful, and unwilling/unable to push himself outside of his comfort zone.

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