Sunday, May 21, 2023

Opinions and Observations: Haney-Lomachenko

What I will remember most from the thrilling Devin Haney-Vasiliy Lomachenko fight is how both boxers went for it, how they pushed themselves out of recent comfort zones, that they both understood that they needed to do more than their recent best to win, how they were willing to take risks. They were fighting for their reputations, their legacies, the undisputed lightweight crown, to remain important factors in big-money boxing. There was a lot on the line and they fought like it. 

First, let's discuss the quality of the fight. It was so much better than I anticipated. I was expecting a low-volume, cagey fight with periodic passages of interest. But that's not what happened. Instead, we had a high-energy battle with both fighting with urgency from the opening bell. 

To my surprise, Haney started the fight on the attack. As he has faced better opponents, he has often tried to dominate from the outside. This was the dynamic in both George Kambosos fights. But against Lomachenko, he and his father Bill decided that the best way to fight Loma was to back him up, that Loma was less of a threat when in retreat.

Haney (right) connects with a right hand
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

For Loma's part, he clearly understood his problems with slows starts in recent fights and unlike those outings he was bright and vibrant in the first half of Saturday's bout. He was trying to win every round. He was moving much better than he had in his last fight against Ortiz. He certainly didn't look like an aged fighter in the ring on Saturday. 

But what's interesting in how the fight played out is that even though both guys tried to do things differently, the ultimate trajectory of the bout was what most anticipated: Haney, early; Loma, late. Thankfully, the fight was a higher-voltage version of this matchup, but the overall dynamics were as expected. 

As good as Loma was early in the fight, I believe that Haney was better. His straight right hands to the body were pinpoint and easy to see for the judges. He landed a couple of menacing left hooks (he should have used his left hook more in my opinion) and his defense was fantastic. According to CompuBox, Lomachenko landed at a 22% success rate in the fight. Now, use whatever margin of error you want for the punch counting service, but they often have had Lomachenko landing at 40% and above. So, at the very least, Haney was extremely successful in nullifying a lot of what Lomachenko was trying to do on offense, especially in the fight's first half and remember that defense is one of the four scoring criteria for judges. 

As many expected, Lomachenko took over in the second half, but I think that the reasons why were different than anticipated. It wasn't a question of when would Lomachenko finally find the range. He was getting to Haney enough early in the fight. I think that it had to do with Loma's pressure and the repercussions of how Haney decided to start the fight. 

I don't believe that Haney is comfortable yet fighting as a hunter for 12 rounds. At his core, I think that he's a defensive fighter. He expended a lot of energy on the attack in the first half of the fight and I don't think that he had the gas tank or the focus level to sustain his approach for 12 rounds. 

In the second half of the fight, Lomachenko continued to poke and prod with his single left hands and his 2-1 (left hand/right jab) combinations and more started to find their way home. In addition, where Haney was expertly slipping punches and rolling away from the action at the fight's outset, he was a half-step slower in the back half. Later in the fight Lomachenko was able to flurry with multi-punch combinations. And while not everything landed, Haney was close enough and still in range for Lomachenko to throw four or five shots, which illustrates Haney's fatigue.

Loma scoring with a left uppercut
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

This was a tremendously difficult fight to score. In the post-fight roundtable, ESPN's Bernardo Osuna stated that he had circled seven rounds in the fight that he thought were swing rounds that could have gone to either fighter. And as high as that number sounds, I think that he's correct. Round-by-round, so many were hard to determine a clear victor. To use CompuBox one more time, in seven of the rounds, the fighters were within two landed punches of each other. However you slice it, those are competitive rounds, where a decisive punch or a short sequence or two could determine the round's winner. 

I scored the fight a draw and could see plausible scenarios for either fighter winning. The judges had Haney winning 115-113, 115-113 and 116-112. Dave Moretti's 116-112 scorecard was widely ridiculed after the fight because of his scoring of the tenth round for Haney, even though that was an obvious Loma round. But even in a vacuum, I think that the legitimate boundaries for scoring the fight were 116 to 112 (or eight rounds to four) for either fighter. There were that many swing rounds. 

In the aftermath of the fight, the tired calls of robberies and corruption were trumpeted by many on social media, as seems to be de rigueur whenever "their guy" loses a 7-5 fight. Boxing does have systemic problems and the quality of judging is one of them, but Haney-Lomachenko wasn't an example of that. Tim Cheatham and David Sutherland's 115-113 scorecards were fine. And if they weren't popular tallies, they were certainly defensible. 

In assessing the performances of each boxer, both fought at a world-class level, but I believe that each had one key aspect that they could have incorporated to make the fight go more in their favor. For Haney, I think that he needed to mix in more of his traditional boxing approach with his attacks on the front foot. Although I respect the Haneys for employing a bold strategy AND it was enough to win the fight, they very easily could have lost it with different judges. And a major reason why I believe that the fight was in jeopardy for them was because Devin burned up too much energy on attack in the early rounds. 

Haney isn't a relaxed fighter in the ring. He features lots of quick movements (sometimes he over-moves) and twitching upper body feints. Not all of these moves are servicing the fight in front of him; often they are manifestations of the pressure in the ring. However, he's far more relaxed when he is on the outside boxing than when he's going after an opponent. If he has a comfort zone, that's it. Perhaps one day he'll be able to become an attacking fighter for 12 rounds, but he's a long way from there right now. 

When looking at Lomachenko's performance, I think what stands out to me is how he ignored Haney's body. After observing how significantly Haney fatigued in the second half, imagine what could have happened if Loma had invested in the body early in the fight. CompuBox had him landing nine body shots all fight! And there were opportunities for him to go to the body, especially in the last six rounds. Yes, he was successful in landing punches throughout the fight, but it's clear that he could have caused more damage, and more sustaining damage, if he had gone to Haney's body.

But fighters not being able to execute at their absolute best is part of why high-level boxing matches can be so compelling; the other guy gets paid too. Loma wanted to start faster and did, but he met a guy who had much more agility at the beginning of a fight. Haney certainly wanted to win convincingly, but he had an opponent with far more championship experience and who had been able to overcome mental and physical fatigue better than his younger counterpart. They did nullify each other to a degree, but they both went for it. There were thrilling passages throughout the fight and each made the other earn everything. 

Ultimately, I will remember the astoundingly high quality of boxing from Haney-Lomachenko. The rounds flew by and it was an absolute pleasure to watch. Haney at 24 showed that he belongs at the elite level of the sport and Lomachenko affirmed his status. Although he's 35, he's still a tremendous boxer and gave Haney all sorts of problems in the second half of the fight. I thought it was a great night for boxing. But for those who want to obsess about a scorecard that was a round off, or how a guy losing a disputed 7-5 fight was a great tragedy, have at it. Please forgive me if I don't join you on your journey of discontent. Reflecting on the fight a day later, I'm still smiling from ear to ear. Haney-Lomachenko was that good.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of
He's a contributing writer for Ring Magazine, a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Haney-Lomachenko: Preview and Prediction

Undisputed lightweight champion Devin Haney (29-0, 15 KOs) defends his belts against former three-weight world champion Vasiliy Lomachenko (17-2, 11 KOs) on Saturday in a mouth-watering matchup between two master boxers at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Although there were opportunities for this fight to happen when Lomachenko was champion, it will finally take place on Saturday, but now with Lomachenko as the challenger.  

In analyzing the matchup, the first noticeable distinction between the fighters is their ages, with Lomachenko at 35, relatively old for a lightweight, and Haney closer to his athletic prime at 24. In addition to Lomachenko's age, he had participated in over 300 amateur fights before turning pro in 2013. Lomachenko also had shoulder surgery in the recent past and it's fair to question just how much tread is left on his tires. 

In his last fight, Lomachenko struggled with Jamaine Ortiz. Perhaps it was a case that Ortiz had the advantage of familiarity in that he had sparred many rounds with Lomachenko in previous training camps (of course, that advantage could work the other way too). Maybe Ortiz is far better than advertised. Perhaps it was Loma's inactivity. For whatever the reason, it was concerning how easily Ortiz was able to land on Lomachenko during the first six rounds and with big shots as well. Although Lomachenko achieved clear separation over Ortiz in the fight's second half, he had to go to the well to beat a relatively unheralded opponent. 

Haney (left) and Lomachenko during their face-off
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams

Haney is coming off back-to-back wins over George Kambosos in Australia, the first of which cemented his undisputed status in the division. Although Haney did have convincing victories via the scorecards, I wouldn't claim that he authored complete performances in either fight. While he landed his jab and right hand at will, there were opportunities to go for the stoppage in both fights, but Haney chose to box instead of taking unnecessary risks. 

Now there are two ways to read that. On one hand, one can point to disciplined performances from Haney. He got the job done and didn't take too many hard shots in return. He won in hostile territory and didn't let the magnitude of either event take him away from his game plan. However, he also was playing with fire a little bit in that he was the away fighter content to go for the decision. For instance, in the first fight, it would be hard for a neutral observer to find four rounds to give to Kambosos, yet two judges did. When fights go the distance, there is always a risk of relying on boxing judges; we've all seen what can happen in the sport. 

This highlights a potential issue with Haney in that it doesn't seem as if he's wired to go all out for a stoppage. To this point, he hasn't needed to come from behind to secure a victory, but if needed, can he get a fighter out of there? What if he is behind early against Lomachenko? How does he change the dynamic of the fight? Does he have the punch to do it? Does he have the temperament? 

Another major factor that stands out between Haney and Lomachenko is reach. Haney has a 71" reach, while Loma's is only 65 and a half. That's a significant difference. And more to the point, Haney uses every inch of his reach in the ring to his advantage. He wants to be on the outside and is at his best at range. He's also not going to stick around and trade if an opponent is able to get on the inside. He'll either clinch or get out of Dodge with his superior athleticism. 

This leads to the central dynamic in the matchup. Loma will have to get at least to mid-range on Haney, and he can't count on opportunities for prolonged exchanges. He's going to have to get to a spot and be able to cause damage with a single shot, or a two-punch combination at best. And it's worth pointing out that while Lomachenko is certainly a solid puncher, and a guy who can land with shots that an opponent doesn't anticipate, he's not a knockout puncher at lightweight. He's only had three stoppages in his eight fights in the division. The KO can happen for him, but it's not what most often has occurred for him at lightweight. 

What most likely transpires on Saturday is an intriguing battle of cat-and-mouse, where Haney will look to control the outside while Lomachenko will try to get in range to land something menacing before Haney leaves the pocket. Don't expect flowing combinations from either boxer; this fight will mostly be about who can do best at landing single shots against an opponent on the move. And it's apt that Top Rank has used chess in its marketing for this fight. Saturday's fight could be one for the purists who appreciate the intellectual aspects of boxing. Who will be better at executing his game plan? Who can force the other guy into a mistake? Who has a better Plan B? 

Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams

Another key factor worth considering is Haney's jab and how much of a factor it will be in the fight. In a vacuum, Haney has one of the best jabs in the sport. He essentially won the first Kambosos fight with his stick. However, Lomachenko is not an easy fighter to jab. He rarely stays in one place for too long. And if Haney believes that he can simply jab his way to a victory on Saturday, he will be surprised to find out how quickly that strategy won't work. Haney of course has to believe in his jab. There will be opportunities to land it and score with it, but Lomachenko's lateral movement will nullify it to a degree. Haney is going to have use his entire arsenal of punches to win the fight.

I'm sure Haney will have studied how Teofimo Lopez was able to build a big lead against Lomachenko in the first half of their fight. There, Lopez anticipated Lomachenko's attempts to get outside positioning before going on attack. Lopez turned with him and threw power shots (either right hands to the body or left hooks) where he believed that Loma would go. It was a masterful bit of strategy that kept Lomachenko from letting his hands go with regularity. But even that approach lost its luster after the seventh round. Loma was eventually able to bypass Lopez's strategy and he came on in the second half of the fight. It was only when Lopez found the right uppercut in the 12th that he was able to have sustained success once again in the fight. (Again, an example of Lopez using his entire arsenal to win the fight.) 

The early rounds on Saturday will be key for Haney. He must build a significant lead on the scorecards. He doesn't need to do anything fancy, just land single shots that are easy to see for the judges. Mixing in jabs, left hooks and right hands, he should be able to have success in the first third of the fight until Lomachenko can find a consistent pathway to get past his length. 

Although Haney doesn't need to throw a high volume in the first half of the fight, he has to win rounds definitively. He must maintain his focus and not allow Lomachenko, who fights in spurts as he has aged, to steal rounds. 

The back half of the bout is where I believe that we will see the fight's drama. Loma, like many master boxers, does his best work in the second half. He will have figured out what can work to get in range. In the fight's final third, I believe that Lomachenko will be able to let his hands go more freely and finally have success with combinations. 

It's not a secret that Jorge Linares clipped Haney in the second half of their fight and Jo Jo Diaz had success against Haney in the back half as well. However, you'll notice that both of those fighters still lost against Devin. Whatever success they had, it wasn't enough. The question will be if Lomachenko can hurt Haney. Can he drop him for a 10-8 round? Can he stop him? If yes can be answered to any of those questions, the path to winning will be considerably easier for him. If not, he'll be playing a game of catch-up against a savvy fighter who doesn't provide many openings for his opponents. 


I think that this fight will be won in the fight's first half. I see Haney using his legs, reach and discipline to win the early rounds clearly. He'll have a significant working margin after the sixth round; he'll need it too. Haney is a supremely talented boxer, but he does fall into offensive patterns that can be counteracted. I think that Lomachenko will have several convincing moments in the second half and he'll even build a head of steam. But ultimately, I don't believe that Lomachenko has a big enough punch to change the fight in a significant way and I don't think that Haney will make enough mistakes to give up his lead. Haney will see his way to the finish line in a fight that tests his resolve. It won't be a performance that inspires 100% confidence, but he will do enough in my opinion to get his hand raised at the end of the fight.

Devin Haney defeats Vasiliy Lomachenko by a competitive decision: 8 rounds to 4 or 7 rounds to 5. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of
He's a contributing writer for Ring Magazine, a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.