AFTER winning his first version of the ‘world’ title via an exchange of emails rather than punches, American lightweight Devin Haney tonight (June 4) proved himself a worthy champion by travelling to Australia to dethrone George Kambosos Jnr and become the lightweight division’s first undisputed king for 32 years.
It was, on reflection, the fight and the performance Haney needed, both to raise his game to new levels and legitimatise his claim as a titleholder. It was a fight he had been calling for, a fight he fancied, and a fight for which he had been forced to travel. It was also a fight, in the end, he made look relatively easy.
“I was comfortable,” Haney, now 28-0 (15), said. “I was sticking to the gameplan. The gameplan was to go in and hit and not get it, and I did that for the majority of the fight.
“I took the last round off because I knew I was comfortably ahead, but I fought a good, smart fight.”
“This is a dream come true.”
The last undisputed champion in the lightweight division was one Pernell ‘Sweat Pea’ Whitaker, the great multi-weight ruler who gathered all the lightweight belts back in 1990. He, like Haney, was an advocate of the hit-and-don’t-get-hit school of thought, though some will argue – quite rightly – that he tended to express this mentality with a greater degree of fun than some of the disciples who have since come along and done the same. Regardless, to replicate Whitaker’s lightweight success at the age of 23 is no mean feat and Haney, a previously divisive titleholder, deserves credit for not only doing this but going to Australia – the champion’s home country – to get it done.
Beaten opponent Kambosos, meanwhile, whose reign at the top failed to include a single defence, was left to lick his wounds in front of his countrymen. This, his first defeat in 21 fights, was certainly not part of the plan. “I want to take the best test, the hardest test and I’m going to give him full respect for his victory and let him have his time,” he said. “We’ll do it again. I have to implement a few things but I thought the fight was very close.”
On this point most would disagree. The fight’s scorecards, after all, read 116-112, 116-112 and 118-110 – which tells its own story – and one must also make an allowance for a couple of these scorecards perhaps giving the benefit of the doubt to the home fighter whose every punch was accompanied by a roar from the crowd. Even so, whether a four-point difference or an eight-point one, there was no disputing who had won the fight by the end of 12 rounds. Moreover, this was the kind of fight in which, barring a sudden and shocking turn of events, the winner – in this case Haney – seemed obvious no sooner than the fight had got going, such was the pattern the fight immediately took.
It was, unfortunately for Kambosos, just one of those fights. Moreover, Haney’s is just one of those styles. Once settled in a rhythm, the Californian is a man hard to shake from this rhythm and Kambosos, despite getting so much right against Teofimo Lopez last November, had no answer for him on the night. The aggression he used to great effect against Lopez this time merely played into his American opponent’s hands, allowing him to step off and counter at will, and even the support of the 41,129 fans inside Marvel Stadium seemed to not so much motivate him as weigh on him the more the fight progressed. Swollen beneath both eyes, there was not a thing Kambosos could do to get around Haney’s jab or pin him in places in which he wanted him to stay. Every time he advanced, Haney would disappear. Every time he looked to punch, Haney would get there first.
It was, ultimately, plain sailing for the new champion, whose fundamentals, acumen, and athletic ability were too much for Kambosos on the night. He collected as many rounds as he needed to collect and then, such was his dominance, even decided to take the 12th and final round off, just because he could. A choice like that, made while boxing on foreign soil, said everything about Haney’s conviction, confidence and the course the fight had taken.
It’s true, nobody besides Kambosos will be calling for a rematch – and even fewer will be re-watching this first encounter – but one thing we can tonight say for certain is this: Devin Haney, a fighter whose WBC title ‘reign’ was one shrouded in scrutiny and cynicism, has now proven himself, not only as a determined, ambitious risk-taker willing to travel to an opponent’s backyard to get what he wants, but, more importantly, a worthy champion.