George Kambosos Jr tensed his jaw, forced his teeth further into the hard rubber of his gumshield, bowed his head and hurled as many hooks as he could muster at Devin Haney. All the while, Haney stood before the Australian, eyes alert and mind composed, jettisoning sharp, straight shots into the blood-smeared face of his wincing opponent.
Clearly Kambosos, who had spent 12 rounds trying and failing to close range against Haney in June, felt that a more aggressive approach was needed in their rematch four months on – an approach punctuated by a disregard for his own wellbeing. But, Haney, who was so content to school Kambosos with educated jabs in their first encounter, welcomed his opponent’s decision to open up. This time, Haney would punish Kambosos with piston right hands and torquey left hooks, exposing Kambosos’s reckless entries with a greater intensity and variety of offence than was required in their first clash.
And so, although the result and location remained the same, the manner of victory did not. Haney’s record now counts back-to-back unanimous-decision wins over Kambosos, both in Melbourne, but the similarity of those results belies the evolution of performance displayed by the “Dream”.
At just 23 years old, the American had relieved Kambosos of his unbeaten record and unified lightweight titles in their first bout, before maintaining his own undefeated and now-undisputed status in the rematch.
What will 24 bring for Haney? First of all, a showdown with Vasiliy Lomachenko.
The Ukrainian is, unquestionably, one of the finest fighters of this generation. “Loma”’s accolades include two Olympic gold medals, a spell as unified lightweight champion, a world title at featherweight, and another at super-featherweight. His arsenal still boasts refined technique, dizzying punch speed and head movement, and balletic footwork, as well as the adaptability to abort and revisit his southpaw stance whenever necessary.
However, the question that will be answered under the Las Vegas lights on Saturday will be whether Lomachenko, at 35, is a fading force.
It was a question first raised after the Ukrainian’s surprise defeat by Teofimo Lopez in 2020, when Lomachenko’s comeback was too late and too laboured to overturn the American’s early lead. With that result, the second loss of Lomachenko’s professional career and first in six years, the southpaw surrendered the unified lightweight titles that would be passed on to Kambosos and then to Haney.
Lomachenko has since responded positively, stopping Masayoshi Nakatani and outpointing Richard Commey in 2021, before beating Jamaine Ortiz via decision last October. Over the past year, much of Lomachenko’s emotion has, understandably, been invested in his home country’s defence against Russia’s ongoing invasion; a meeting with Haney is of course a ‘fight’ in the most irrelevant of senses, compared to what Lomachenko endured back home, taking up arms alongside his compatriots. In fact, Lomachenko gave up the chance to box Kambosos last year, instead opting to return to Ukraine and allowing Haney to achieve undisputed status.
Still, Saturday’s main event marks the toughest in-ring test that Lomachenko has faced since his match-up with Lopez, and there is a distinct feeling that this could be the veteran’s last stand. There is a feeling that Haney could faze out Lomachenko to usher in a new generation.
It is a generation carried by an American lightweight movement, one that Haney is fronting. Just last month, his compatriots Gervonta “Tank” Davis and Ryan Garcia squared off (admittedly at a catchweight just above the lightweight limit), and although the bout was billed as one of the ‘boxing purists’ fights of the year’, it noticeably permeated the mainstream consciousness. Even after his first defeat, 24-year-old Garcia still has untapped crossover potential, while the unbeaten duo of Davis (28) and Shakur Stevenson (25) are infiltrating many pound-for-pound lists.
Yet Haney has arguably the greatest potential of all, and in taking on Lomachenko this weekend, he has positioned himself in the biggest fight to feature any of the four Americans. Furthermore, that is within a year of competing in front of more than 40,000 fans in his first fight with Kambosos.
Lomachenko, for his part, is unintimated – as one would expect. He even sounds unimpressed by Haney and managed to play down the abilities of the “Dream” and Garcia in one chomping soundbite this week. “It’s the same as Ryan Garcia, [who] has a good left hook,” the Ukrainian said. “It doesn’t work with guys who know boxing. So, it’s the same [with Haney]; if you know about his jab, I know about his jab, too.”
That jousting jab was so effective in Haney’s first encounter with Kambosos, while the American demonstrated a wider array of skills and greater aggression in the rematch. It remains to be seen how Haney will approach the puzzle that Lomachenko presents, which so many foes have failed to solve. Haney has suggested, though, that he will fight on the front foot.
“I want to beat him bad, I want to send him into retirement,” he said this week. “I’m going to go in there and impose my will on Loma. [I’m going to] show the world how great Devin Haney really is – how versatile, how strong, how young, and how experienced I am in that ring.” Lomachenko’s counter? “I believe that when you say something, you need to prove it.”
Haney is proving himself with every outing, yet Lomachenko still has something to prove, too. And if Haney really does set out to impose himself on Lomachenko, the veteran will need to keep the counters coming. This could be his last stand.
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