After 12 rounds of thrilling action on Saturday, the judges were unanimous in scoring the undisputed lightweight title bout for Devin Haney over Vasiliy Lomachenko.
It’s the boxing public that remains split, however, following a disputed result and a great fight in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Haney (30-0, 15 KOs) received judges’ scores of 116-112 and 115-113 (twice), although it was Lomachenko (17-3, 11 KOs) who landed more punches and rallied huge in the second half.
Let’s take a look at the biggest takeaways from the pay-per-view thriller.
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1. This wasn’t a robbery, but it was a great fight
Did the scoring rob from the immediate joy of having witnessed such an instant classic? For some, without question. (And, for the record, I scored it 116-112 for Lomachenko.) But it would be wrong to ignore how many rounds were close and how much bigger the shots Haney landed in the first half appeared to be. Haney also faded for part of the second half as Lomachenko made adjustments to walk him down with power shots. Seeing a 35-year-old legend like Lomachenko turn back the clock so impressively without getting rewarded might create a bitter taste because the rounds he won, he appeared to do so by much more of a dominant margin late. But there were clearly enough close rounds to justify a Haney victory on at least one scorecard. The surprising part was that all three judges had it similarly for a fighter whose performance was far from complete. Haney looked elite early but Lomachenko was simply better late. This was both a technical showcase of two pound-for-pound elites and a legitimately great fight at the same time. All three judges had it close and they also had it for the wrong guy. Still, that’s not a robbery, that’s a disputed fight. If there’s a middle ground between corruption and ineptitude, this is it.
2. Lomachenko’s loss might be the best win of his career
For everything Lomachenko has already accomplished as a three-division champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist, there was something extra gutsy and brilliant about his performance against Haney. Lomachenko looked briefly like an aging fighter in the middle rounds after Haney began to hurt him to the body. Yet despite fighting two divisions higher than his natural weight and facing a massively huge lightweight in the 24-year-old Haney, Lomachenko acted the part of the bigger man in the second half by fighting more physical and landing the more meaningful power punches. Lomachenko clearly learned a lesson from his first defeat, in just his second pro fight in 2014, when he dropped a controversial decision to Orlando Salido for a featherweight title. Salido had missed weight and was routinely hitting Lomachenko low without referee Laurence Cole taking notice. But the experience was an education for Lomachenko on how to fight like a wily veteran and he used some of that to tame Haney late and frustrate him out of throwing. A victory would’ve arguably been the most impressive of his legendary career because of how deep he dug and how brilliant his technical mind communicated with his still fast hands and feet.
3. Devin Haney bent but never quite broke
This is what happens when you’re willing to fight the very best in the world. It’s not easy but Haney has a lot of room to grow from this fight. His body language wasn’t particularly great down the stretch, nor was the advice from his corner and father/trainer Bill Haney. But the young champion rebounded with a strong Round 12 by pushing the pace to win it on all three scorecards and prevent a split-decision defeat. Haney also looked good offensively early and made the fight’s first big adjustment by slowing Lomachenko down to the body. Throughout the fight, Haney’s defense and footwork were also elite until Lomachenko’s late success lowered his output. Had Haney fallen apart completely, there would be more reason for concern, even with the victory. But he righted the ship when it mattered most and took all of Lomachenko’s best punches without crumbling, placing his earlier scare against Jose Linares a few years back further in the rearview mirror.
4. These two always had an answer for one another
We all love classic brawls but boxing’s true main course, for those with a real taste for the sweet science, has long been a high-speed chess thriller, which Haney-Lomachenko turned out to be. The pace was high throughout, the pockets of two-way action were exhilarating and the ebbs and flows were like clockwork. It quickly became clear how much these contrasting artists made for perfect dance partners because they took turns adjusting to one another and enjoying sustained stretches of brilliance. The constant trading off makes it easy for the scoring of close rounds to be all over the place and, in this fight, it also produced steady drama from two of the smartest and savviest boxers of this era.
5. The best matchups in boxing are between 135 and 140 pounds
Considering we are one month removed from the blockbuster Gervonta Davis-Ryan Garcia PPV and that a delectable junior welterweight title bout between Josh Taylor and Teofimo Lopez Jr. awaits us in June, this was a great time for Haney and Lomachenko to deliver an incredible fight. Shakur Stevenson, a former two-division champion who recently moved up to lightweight, was in the ring after the fight to call out Haney and announce his hope to fight for the title next. Boxing has an embarrassment of riches in and around the lightweight division from the standpoint of breakout young stars. It also has a living legend in Lomachenko and plenty of veteran talent like Regis Prograis and Jose Ramirez, along with characters like Rolando Romero and tough outs like Frank Martin. What the sport needs is for all of the big names to make it a priority to fight one another, regardless of the business hurdles needed to be cleared to make fights of that nature possible.