Devin Haney and Stephen Fulton turned in exceptional performances on Saturday. Featuring excellent defense, great lead left hands and smart movement, both fighters illustrated that are among the best in the sport. And a theme for me in both performances was the influence of Floyd Mayweather Jr., but more on that in a minute.
In a number of respects, Haney had the more difficult assignment. Traveling to Australia, fighting in front of 40,000 hostile fans and not knowing if his father/head trainer would be with him until 24 hours before the bout (visa issue), there would have been a number of justifiable reasons for Haney not to have performed to the best of his abilities. Yet, Haney boxed his way to a comfortable victory and didn't allow unified champion George Kambosos to have sustained success; the crowd was eerily quiet throughout much of the fight.
|Haney's left hand dominated the action
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams
Haney won the fight mostly with his left hand. His jab and his length troubled Kambosos throughout the fight. Kambosos tried the same approach versus Haney that he did in his title-winning performance against Teofimo Lopez: punch in between Haney's shots and get through with quick power punches. But Haney had an extra 2.5 inches of reach compared to Lopez and made every inch of his length count. Kambosos fell short far more often than not. And he failed to land his best power punches throughout most of the fight.
Haney, as Fulton would also do on Saturday, demonstrated how an educated lead hand can be devastating. He jabbed, double jabbed, and landed lead and counter hooks; Kambosos didn't know which shot would be coming. Haney did feature his right hand more as the fight progressed, especially in the second half of the fight, but his left was the star of the show.
Fulton faced a better opponent on Saturday, or at least one with a more coherent plan. Danny Roman understood exactly what the task was in front of him. He tried to be clever, give Fulton different looks, and whenever he got inside, he kept hammering away until Fulton tied up or was able to evade him. Yet for all of the intermittent success that Roman had, and he did land several excellent shots, he was routinely beaten to the punch by Fulton, who demonstrated an array of top-shelf boxing moves to keep Roman from winning rounds.
Watching Fulton pot-shot Roman with single left hands, I was immediately reminded of how Mayweather used to dominate opponents. Featuring jabs, lead and counter hooks, spins, turns and sublime lateral movement, Fulton kept Roman guessing throughout the match. But more than technical mastery, he had a doggedness in his performance that wouldn't allow Roman to get the upper hand. When Roman had a strong seventh backing up Fulton to the ropes, Fulton found another gear and cracked him with a straight left out of the southpaw stance, in what might have been his best punch of the night. This was very much the theme of the fight. Fulton would land great stuff, but when Roman would have periods of success, Fulton would double down on his determination and retake control of the fight.
|Fulton (left) with a counter left hook
Photo courtesy of Ryan Hafey
And later in the bout, Fulton, like Mayweather used to do, decided to punish his opponent. Fulton's left hook parade in the 11th round was thrilling stuff. These weren't merely scoring punches; they were hurtful shots and let Roman know that he would now pay a price for coming forward.
To me, that was the one thing missing from Haney's performance. The opportunity was there for Haney to do even more damage. Haney never took the fight away from Kambosos, who was dogged throughout the match, even if mostly ineffective. As the fight progressed, Kambosos started to load up with his left hook and would drop his hand, waiting for the opportunity to throw. Haney had already proven in the ninth round that he could get through with devastating one-twos, but why not feint the jab and just go with some lead rights? The opening was there. As stellar as Haney was on Saturday, he may have left a little food on the table.
Haney is only 23 and with his victory on Saturday he has become the undisputed lightweight champion, so I don't want to sound too critical. He already has achieved a special accomplishment. However, I do believe that he has another level to get to. Similar to what Shakur Stevenson demonstrated in his last two fights, Haney now must realize that it's not enough to beat a guy; you have to discourage him too. There's a danger in letting opponents continue to feel feisty late in fights. Weird things can happen in boxing, for instance last-minute knockdowns/knockouts, dodgy scorecards, or even injuries.
Floyd Mayweather didn't have fight-ending power at welterweight, but he had enough spite to discourage opponents by the end of 12 rounds. He dominated the last half of fights. He often made opponents doubt themselves, where many seemed to be relieved by the end of the fight. Haney, who spent many of his formative years in Mayweather's gym, still must incorporate this lesson into the ring. The back half is when a fighter needs to step on the gas, even if he's winning. He needs to leave no questions after 12 rounds as to who was the rightful victor. Haney still has to add a little more ruthlessness to his overall game.
Fulton did just that in the championship rounds against Roman. And he did it in the right way. In his previous two fights, Fulton won vicious close-range battles against Angelo Leo and Brandon Figueroa. While Fulton deserves credit for his impressive displays of fortitude, he didn't necessarily fight to his strengths. He has better speed and a faster trigger than probably anyone in the junior featherweight division, so why did he fight in phone booth wars giving his opponents more of a chance? I think that Saturday's performance was Fulton's signature win, where he finally understood how to employ his manifold gifts. The expert fighter knows when to make it easy for himself and when to take it to an opponent. And on Saturday the light bulb turned fully on for Fulton. He incorporated all of his skills with the proper ring intelligence to author a complete performance.
Similar to Mayweather, Haney and Fulton are proof that power can be overrated in the sport. Fulton is already a great fighter and Haney is right there, just behind him. They might not knock you out, but they sure can have you swinging at air. Perhaps their largest threats in the future could be of their own making: boredom or overconfidence. Dialed in and hungry, they will require greatness to beat them, or a perfect shot. That's their level.