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.