Monday, December 11, 2023

Opinions and Observations: Prograis-Haney

In the Two Things Can Be True Department, Devin Haney was dominant in shutting out Regis Prograis to win Prograis' 140-lb. belt, while Regis never looked like he was strategically or emotionally invested in winning the fight. Haney fired hard straight right hands and took away Prograis straight left by moving to his left side. He kept turning Prograis throughout the fight, forcing him to reset his feet. Ultimately, Prograis was completely defanged and offered little. From his initial game plan to his unwillingness to make adjustments, Prograis was poor in every facet. As Haney continued to connect with big right hands, including a picture-perfect lead right in the third that scored a knockdown, Regis insisted on remaining at mid-range, refusing to change the pattern of the fight. 

As early as the first round of the fight, I was skeptical of Prograis' approach. Instead of applying pressure or trying to make it a physical battle, Prograis operated in pure counterpuncher mode. Very quickly Haney established that he had the far faster hands and the athletic agility to get out of range for counters. 

And it's not as if Prograis doesn't know how to apply pressure. We have to go all the way back to...his last fight against Danielito Zorrilla, where Prograis essentially won that fight with pressure and front-foot boxing. Although Prograis wasn't particularly effective in the bout, it was his pressure and effective-enough aggression that led to him securing the victory. 

But Prograis never tried to apply pressure against Haney. In a curious move coming into the fight, Prograis demoted his longtime trainer Bobby Benton in favor of Julian Chua. Prograis and Benton had been through the wars together and for whatever deficiencies Prograis may have lacked as a fighter, Benton played a large role in Prograis becoming a two-time champion at junior welterweight. Yes, it's true that Prograis didn't look good last fight and perhaps that's why he believed that he needed to make a change, but clearly the combination of Chua as lead and Benton in support didn't work. They got their initial fight plan 100% wrong and no significant adjustments were made.

Haney landing one of many right hands
Photo courtesy of Ed Mulholland

However, let's not throw this all on training team. At a certain point, a fighter needs to try to find a way to win. And after getting picked apart at range, if Prograis was truly interested in changing the outcome of the fight, then he would have tried whatever he could to turn the tide. But he didn't. He was compliant in his own demise, accepting getting hit from mid-range instead of going for broke for a knockout. 

A noted trainer said on X during the fight that Prograis made a silent agreement with Haney. This is a concept that's been discussed from time to time in the sport, where the losing fighter is willing to accept being beaten a certain way as long as he doesn't get knocked out. So, if the opponent isn't really trying to end things, then the fighter who is losing is content to accept the status quo of losing round after round. It's not fighting in survival mode, where a fighter does whatever he has to in order to stay in a fight; this is something else. It's an unspoken pact to limit aggression. And I agree with the trainer 100% that Prograis engaged in this behavior during the fight. 

In the latter rounds of the fight, Prograis seemed far more interested in making it to the final bell than further engaging Haney. By the eighth round, Haney had already had the fight won as long as nothing foolish happened. He had made a significant statement by outboxing AND outslugging Prograis. To him, he had already put in his work. Although he still won the final third of the fight, it's fair to say that he didn't go for broke to get the stoppage either. And I'm fine with that. He had already answered every question about this matchup that had been asked of him.  

Haney and his father/trainer Bill got everything right on Saturday. There are several different decisions that they could have made to beat Prograis, but they arrived at the right ones, the ones that led to victory and elevated Devin's status within the sport. They could have counterpunched, relying on Devin's faster hands. They could have tried to dance or stink their way to a decision. But what they concocted was the perfect approach to neutralizing Prograis and overcoming Devin's past weaknesses.

Haney dropping Prograis in the third
Photo courtesy of Ed Mulholland

It's not a secret that Haney had faded at times in the second half of fights. The bouts against Lomachenko, Linares and Diaz were examples of this. There were three contributing factors to Haney's fades in my opinion, each of which was addressed by Bill and Devin on Saturday. Haney at times moved a little too much in fights, which contributed to his gas tank being a little lower in a fight's final third. He also wound up giving up ground to pressure fighters, allowing them to build up a head of steam, not to mention confidence. Haney had also begun to outgrow the lightweight division, which further depleted his stamina. 

So, against Prograis, Haney wasn't moving around the entire ring. He almost always was in ring center. He wasn't giving up a tremendous amount of ground whenever Prograis decided to let his hands go. Instead, he relied on his defensive technique and subtle lateral movement to remain out of harm's way. He didn't need to run a track meet to avoid shots. 

Even after establishing a large lead, Haney refused to give ground. He didn't languish on the ropes or use the outskirts of the ring to protect himself or catch a breather. Instead, he remained in the center of the ring and continued to follow his game plan that he had established at the fight's outset. 

Haney also looked much stronger at 140 pounds. His punches were the ones that were far more impactful. He hurt Prograis multiple times in the fight and busted his face up. In addition, at no point did Haney look like he was out of gas. He may have been on cruise control in the final few rounds of the fight, but he still did more than enough to win all of them. 

One further thing I liked from Haney was that he simplified his attack. He mostly relied on his straight right hand and jab-straight right hand combo to rule the day. He did mix in a couple of blistering right uppercuts and a few bracing left hooks to the body, but he wasn't out there trying to show off his entire arsenal every round. He stuck with the tools that were working. I think that earlier in his career Haney was so amped up to make a statement about what he could do offensively that he would try to unload every type of punch known to man without a coherent understanding of which punches to use or when to use them. But against Prograis he understood exactly which punches needed to be thrown and didn't deviate from what was working. To me, that showed a large leap of maturity in Haney. 

At 25, Haney is in his physical prime, but he also has vital experience against top opposition. Although he had always been a boxing savant, seemingly sparring with everyone as a young fighter and learning from several of the best trainers in the business, he needed to experience adversity, learn from it and figure out how to become a better fighter. 

He was rocked by Linares, but stayed on his feet to win. He fought as the away fighter in hostile environments in the two Kambosos fights. He yielded too much real estate in the ring to Diaz and Lomachenko. And maybe he has learned that he's much better in the center of the ring than he realized, or perhaps he's just more confident there now. He trusts his defense and chin in a way that he might not have a few years ago. He's now become a complete fighter. 

Haney displaying his new belt after the fight
Photo courtesy of Ed Mulholland

At 34 Prograis now looks far removed from his best days. His athleticism and reflexes aren't what they were, but perhaps even more concerning, his willingness to do whatever it takes to win seems to have left him. Maybe there is a matchup or two where he would do well given the right opponent. He still has enough power to hurt people. But if his desire and ambition aren't there in the ring, then I'm not sure how much longer he has at the top reaches at 140. He didn't go down swinging on Saturday; he went away meekly. 

But meek would never be a word to describe Haney's ambition in the ring. His desire to improve, to become a great fighter is palpable. He wants to stamp his name among the greats of his era. And while he's already made good money, it's clear that money is not necessarily his primary motivating factor. He wants the big stage. He doesn't mind putting himself at risk. In fact, he seems to thrive on that. 

Haney has always had the boxing skills to be considered a top young fighter, but his intangibles are what may separate him from the other top talents in his age cohort. He wants the challenges. It's not about what promotional team he's on or getting every possible advantage before he steps in the ring. He welcomes the tough assignments because he's that confident in his abilities. And he has the intelligence and the humility to realize that he can always get better. 

It's been thrilling to watch Haney's development in the ring from top prospect to champion to becoming one of the elites in the sport. He has developed in the right way. Sure, he has pride, but he's also willing to get his hands dirty if it's required. He understands that greatness has to be earned in the ring. And he wants to earn. 

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. 

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