ON a night aimed at the kids, WBC lightweight champion Devin ‘The Dream’ Haney, one of boxing’s bright young things, showed he still has plenty to learn in a dominant but dull title defence against Alfredo Santiago of the Dominican Republic.
The gifted American retained his belt via decision (120-107 on all three cards), but it was far from plain sailing. Instead, much like Billy Joe Saunders’ title defence earlier in the night, Haney’s unheralded challenger gave him more than he bargained for, especially early, and displayed an ambition usually absent in opponents handpicked for a champion’s first title defence.
Composed and comfortable, Santiago, 12-1 (4), only struggled to keep up with Haney once he stepped on the gas in the fifth. It was in this round Haney threw an uppercut from the waist, followed by a cuffing hook, and Santiago landed on his backside. It was in this round the fight seemed as good as over.
Yet Haney’s inexperience reared its head in the sixth, a round in which he was expected to secure the finish, and on the fight went. Here, rather than end matters, he let Santiago off the hook, unable to set up the correct attack to bring a conclusion to proceedings. Fans of YouTubers KSI and Logan Paul, whose high-pitched squeals could be heard throughout, were not impressed, and the idea of Haney fighting Vasyl Lomachenko anytime soon had never seemed more farfetched.
For the remainder of the fight Haney plodded forward winging single shots but struggled finding the target against a savvy opponent whose ambition, beyond the halfway mark, was to make it to the end. This combination – Haney out of sorts and Santiago out to survive – killed the spectacle and had onlookers counting down the rounds in anticipation of the – gulp – main event between YouTubers.
If you believe the hype and buy into the idea that Haney, 24-0 (15), is the next superstar of boxing, consider this a flat, uninspired performance, one to give future opponents plenty of hope and his cheerleaders good reason to quieten down. If, however, you consider Haney a 20-year-old still very much a work in progress, this victory over Santiago represents little more than another learning experience in what he hopes will be a long and illustrious career.