THE studious Bill Haney had waited until Egis Klimas had finished speaking at the final press conference for the fight between Vasyl Lomachenko and his son Devin before he said, as though he hadn’t been waiting to say it, “We’re only a little bit mad that you didn’t give us the opportunity we’re giving you. We’re just only a little bit mad.”
Lomachenko’s manager had been thanking Top Rank and speaking of the “respect” that existed between the rival camps when the father, trainer and manager of the world’s leading lightweight – normally so composed – betrayed the sense of injustice and frustration he and his son have harboured for the past four years.
“Anytime – would you have given us the opportunity that we’re giving you guys right now?” he asked, not even close to raising his voice but regardless needing to be heard. “You told me it would never happen. You said that it would never happen and I said, ‘We’ll see’.
“Has anybody else ever run your phone like we called your phone to fight Lomachenko? Was anyone else raising their hand to fight this great fighter right here?
“My son, 24 years old, has been chasing him because he’s a great fighter. Let’s make that understood. No one has chased Lomachenko, because he’s a great fighter, and Devin has put himself to the test.”
When he recently spoke to Boxing News – first at the Top Rank gym in Las Vegas and then at a restaurant on Los Angeles’ Sunset Boulevard – so content was Bill Haney in not only his sense of self but he and his talented son’s mission that he answered questions about his conviction and years in prison dating back to his time in the drugs trade without the slightest concern about who might overhear. Before he had started doing so on the first occasion he had briefly had a conversation with an associate, raised by that associate, about his son’s absence from the Las Vegas Journal’s pound-for-pound list, and towards the conclusion of the second – having also discussed his father dying of cancer – the only time he didn’t sound authentic was when he was asked about Lomachenko, Shakur Stevenson, and Gervonta Davis.
As soon as the second part of that interview concluded his relaxed demeanour, quiet authority and sense of mischief were again apparent – so much so that he then asked, “Did you know around the corner was where [your compatriot] Hugh Grant got caught?” In 1995, at perhaps the height of his fame and while dating Liz Hurley, Grant was arrested when having sex in his car with the black sex worker Divine Brown after waiting until night time to drive down the Sunset Strip. “[Grant and Hurley] were like [Prince] Harry and Megan,” the warm Haney continued, still smiling. “[But] he wanted some chocolate.”
It was in 2019 when, with Lomachenko in his prime and widely recognised as the world’s finest fighter, the ambitious Devin Haney, then 20, had first started chasing him. That October, with Lomachenko having instead just excelled against Luke Campbell, the deplorable WBC elevated Lomachenko to the vague status of “franchise lightweight champion” and Haney to “full champion”, leading to criticism of Haney for something ultimately beyond his control and which his father last year described to BN as their “lowest point”.
Regardless of Lomachenko denying that he had requested the WBC do so, in the years since he has done little to endear himself to his rival. The following October Haney watched when Lomachenko narrowly lost to Teofimo Lopez, who won because of a disciplined performance Haney will have considered himself capable of and may yet even emulate at the MGM Grand.
Lopez’s career and reputation also soared as a consequence, all the while Haney – a professional since the age of 17 such was his desire to prove himself – continued to wait.
If Haney’s crowning evening came last June when he defeated George Kambosos Jnr, he and his father will also know that he was only installed as the Australian’s challenger because Lomachenko had turned down doing so because of his commitment to defending the under-siege Ukraine.
“Loma will bring the best out of me and the world will give me my just due after this fight,” Haney, speaking at Tuesday’s grand arrivals, said when asked about Saturday. “My main focus is going there and winning, and looking good. I look to beat him bad.
“It’s very personal. He’s somebody that ducked me for four years; that started a franchise; the whole whatever. He’s somebody I was calling – he wouldn’t say my name for a long time – and now that he’s hungry, he’s thirsty, he wants to fight. But it’s okay, because I know I’m the better fighter, and I will show it.”
He was then asked about his previous criticisms of The Ring Magazine – on account of being their lightweight champion but not on their pound-for-pound list – and he responded: “They gave me the belt. I’m the champion, just not on the pound-for-pound list. But it is what it is.”
A similar subject was broached again at Wednesday’s press conference by the Top Rank compere seeking, quite transparently, to secure a reaction and to direct attention towards their fight. “Everybody in this room, who works in boxing, has a pound-for-pound list,” he said lying, and he then asked Haney, while as unconvincingly feigning innocence, “do you pay attention to that?”
“The world has seen me pay attention to pound-for-pound lists,” the fighter responded. “But at the end of the day it’s only an opinionated list, and it is what it is. My main focus is on being victorious; beating Loma. Wherever they put me on that pound for pound list, it should be high.”
Haney was responding, even if not as had been hoped, despite ultimately being in a good place. After his struggles to make weight for his rematch with Kambosos Jnr his additional time with a nutritionist means he looks healthy and hydrated 48 hours before he is due to return to the scales. He is also surrounded by friends and family from the comfort of his home city, and having long modelled himself on Floyd Mayweather – and to the extent that some of his mannerisms are sometimes identical to Mayweather’s and that he attended some of the build-up to Mayweather’s fight with Andre Berto in 2015 – he is relishing that this week in Sin City it is his name in lights.
“It was crazy,” Haney excitedly said on Tuesday, recalling Mayweather-Berto with an innocence never seen in the fighter he attended to see. “It was like, amazing. It was crazy then. But now it’s even crazier. Like, not real – it’s surreal. It’s crazy that this is me now.”
There was a time when the widely respected Mayweather accused Larry Merchant and HBO of not giving him “a fair shake”, and when while he was the most powerful and highest paid figure in his sport his only perceived grievance could be that there were those more impressed by the similarly great Manny Pacquiao.
Haney has never, and perhaps will never, quite know anything like Mayweather’s status, but among the things he has learned from him – and his father Bill has invested time and money learning from the methods of Floyd Snr and Roger Mayweather – may just be the siege mentality that drove Mayweather on many of his finest nights.
“It’s not personal,” Lomachenko said later, when asked about Bill Haney’s comments. “You need to understand. Egis explained – four years ago he was a top boxer, a good boxer, but he was without the belts. My goal was four belts. I had three belts and at that moment I needed just one more.
“It was the IBF and Lopez held this belt. That’s why we organised the fight with Lopez. We can’t organise with this guy [Haney] just because he wants this fight. He wasn’t on my plan, because my dream was four belts. If I’d had four belts and he’d been a contender, no problem. No problem.”
Klimas was again alongside Lomachenko, helping to translate, but on that occasion – perhaps more than ever – he was speaking for himself.