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.