Devin Haney survives vintage performance by Vasiliy Lomachenko to eke out victory

·4 min read

Vasiliy Lomachenko still has it. He just didn’t have enough.

Devin Haney survived a vintage performance from his 35-year-old opponent to win a close, but unanimous decision and retain his undisputed 135-pound championship Saturday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

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The official scores were 116-112, 115-113 and 115-113. Boxing Junkie scored it 114-114, a draw.

“I have to take my hat off to Lomachenko,” Haney said afterward. “He’s a future Hall of famer, he was my toughest opponent by far.”

There’s no doubt about that.

Haney (30-0, 15 KOs) has dominated one opponent after another with his elite skill set and unusually big frame for the division but he had never tangled with anyone like Lomachenko, who was at least near his best after so many had written him off.

The 24-year-old champion had his best rounds in the first half of the fight, although it was competitive almost the whole way.

Haney landed the cleaner punches, particularly those to his favorite target in the fight: the body of Lomachenko. The southpaw challenger was competitive in the opening rounds but he took more eye-catching shots than he dished out.

Lomachenko rallied in the second half. He landed his straight left almost at will from the about eighth round on, sometimes doubling it up. And his footwork seemed to confuse Haney, who didn’t land as consistently as he had earlier.

Lomachenko’s best rounds were 10 and 11, when he seemed to grow stronger and Haney appeared to be wilting. The Ukrainian had all the momentum.

Haney wouldn’t give in, though. He bounced back to have a strong 12th and final round, beating Lomachenko to the punch and outworking him in one of his best stanzas since early in the bout. As it turned out he won that round on all three cards, which proved to be decisive.

When the final bell rang, it was anyone’s guess who would emerge victorious.

Had Haney built a big enough lead early in the fight? Or had Lomachenko’s dominance down the stretch been enough to turn the tide in his favor?

When the announcement came, Haney smiled broadly. And for good reason. He had dodged an Eastern European bullet, retained his championship and claimed the most significant victory of his young career. Lomachenko looked both baffled and dejected, a clear sign that he expected to have his hand raised.

Afterward, Haney simply heaped more praise on his fallen opponent.

“He’s a crafty fighter,” he said. “He turned it up in the championship rounds. I just have to take my hat off to him. He’s a great fighter.”

Lomachenko (17-3, 11 KOs) was asked twice whether he thought he deserved the victory but only implied that the judges might’ve gotten it wrong.

“I don’t want to talk about this. All the people saw what happened today,” he said. He was then asked to assess Haney’s ability. “Look, before I think he would be better. Right now, he’s a tough fighter, a good fighter. He’s not a pound-for-pound fighter.”

Now what?

Haney’s victory could set up a massive showdown with either Gervonta Davis or Shakur Stevenson, who said after the fight that he thought Lomachenko deserved the nod. That is if Haney decides to stay at 135 pounds, at which he has fought his entire career.

He hinted that he will move up to 140 but not before considering all options.

“Oh man, it’s always been tough for me to make weight,” he said. “I’ve accomplished everything that I wanted at 135. I just beat a future Hall of Famer. That was my eighth title defense. But there are still great fighters in the 135-pound division.

“So we’ll see. If it makes sense, we’ll be at 135.”

Lomachenko obviously was pleased with himself even though he ended up on the wrong side of what already is a disputed decision.

When he lost his 135-pound titles to Teofimo Lopez, had shoulder surgery and left the sport for a year to fight Russia alongside his countrymen, many believed the former pound-for-pound king’s best days were far behind him.

He demonstrated on Saturday that the old boxing wizard is still with us.

“Look, I think I showed that I can be in boxing,” he said. “Now I’m in good shape. I’ll see you next time.”

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Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie