WHEN Eddie Hearn took his Matchroom promotional operation to the USA, he understandably tried to sign up local talent to interest American fans. While he has so far not been able to entice many elite names, he did succeed in signing a young prospect who may well figure in big fights for years to come: Devin Haney. The promising Las Vegas-based lightweight had been fighting under his own promotional banner, but has committed to Matchroom – and on Friday (September 13) gets a big test when he meets Zaur Abdullaev at the Theater under Madison Square Garden in New York City.

This 12-rounder was originally a final eliminator for the WBC 135lbs crown, but has been upgraded to interim WBC title status – even though brilliant Ukrainian Vasyl Lomachenko beat Luke Campbell for the full title as recently as August 31. Go figure. Even if Haney wins he’s unlikely to meet Lomachenko anytime soon, but this is still a good chance to announce himself as a real player in the crowded lightweight landscape, with DAZN televising in the USA (Sky Sports in the UK).

Still only 20, Haney turned pro in Mexico a month after his 17th birthday and learned his trade steadily before stepping up over the past year. Always blessed with good skills, he showed his improved punching power last time out (May) via a seventh-round knockout of Antonio Moran for three minor belts.

He also holds a wide 10-round points victory over former two-weight (feather and super-feather) world title challenger Juan Carlos Burgos, although the Mexican was past his best by the time of their September 2018 meeting.

Abdullaev has never boxed professionally outside Russia, although he did appear (briefly) in the now-defunct World Series of Boxing hybrid pro-am competition. He’s done everything asked of him, but the biggest name on his record remains faded fringe contender Henry Lundy, whom he outscored over 12 a year ago. It’s difficult to gauge how good he really is.

The Dagestani’s only fight since Lundy came in February when he stopped in the last of a 10-rounder Colombian veteran Humberto Martinez, who had been halted in six by Jorge Linares way back in 2006.

The Lundy fight was a defence of the WBC Silver bauble, which presumably earned him the high ranking that produced this chance. Abdullaev is competent, a solid puncher, and an inch taller than Haney at 5ft 9ins, yet it’s hard to see him having the skills or seasoning to triumph.

With his superior handspeed, Devin should outbox him from the off, and possibly score a knockdown or two on the way to a clear points decision. And then it’s on to the really big names at 135lbs.

Devin Haney boxing promoter
Devin Haney in action Dave Mandel/SHOWTIME

The undercard features an all-Brooklyn women’s 10-twos as Heather Hardy defends the WBO featherweight title against Amanda Serrano, who has also held that belt in a career that has seen her reign at a remarkable seven weights.

A year ago Serrano was outpointing Yamila Esther Reynoso for the vacant WBO crown at super-lightweight (140lbs), leading to speculation that she might one day be an opponent for Irish lightweight champ Katie Taylor.

But just four months later, in January, the Puerto Rican-born southpaw had dropped all the way down to 115lbs to stop Eva Voraberger in one round for the WBO belt at super-fly. That was the 27th early win from 36 for Serrano against a loss to Sweden’s Frida Walberg back in 2012.

She held the WBO 126lbs belt in 2016 before dropping down to super-bantam, and may be getting this fight at the right time, given Hardy is now 37 and back in June was stopped in an MMA fight (she’s 2-2 in her parallel Mixed Martial Arts career).

Hardy is 22-0 1NC in regular boxing but with only four early wins is not much of a puncher. Heather is undoubtedly tough, but the pick is for Serrano to take it on points.

An intriguing heavyweight 12-rounder sees Las Vegas-based Michael Hunter, 17-1 (12), box Russia’s 15-0 (11) Sergey Kuzmin, with the winner poised to move into world title contention.

Hunter, 31, was briefly mentioned as a possible opponent for Anthony Joshua when Jarrell Miller’s failed drug tests ruled him out of their June world title fight, but Andy Ruiz got the gig instead (and the rest is history).

He has boxed for a world title before, losing on points to brilliant Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk down at cruiserweight in 2017, since when he’s five in a row at heavyweight. That includes a 10th-round stoppage of touted Martin Bakole at York Hall in October 2018, which proved he has stamina as well as ring smarts.

But at around 215lbs he’s not a big heavyweight, which may be troublesome against Kuzmin. The St Petersburg 32-year-old was 244lbs when he beat David Price on a fourth-round retirement (torn biceps) a year ago and 255lbs when he beat the tough but limited Joey Dawejko on a majority 10-round decision last time out in March.

The Russian holds a one-round win over Joe Joyce from the amateurs, although another GB talent, Frazer Clarke, beat him on points in the unpaid code. So the pick is for smart-boxing Hunter to edge it on points.

Kazakh southpaw Daniyar Yeleussinov, the former Olympic gold medallist now 7-0 (3) as a pro with Matchroom, looks for more experience when he boxes the 12-0-1 (6) Reshard Ellis from Killeen in Texas.

The Verdict This Big Apple showcase will tell us if Haney is the real deal or not.