When Devin Haney made his professional debut, aged 17, he was too young to obtain a boxing licence in America. The year was 2015. He travelled to Tijuana, Mexico, needing just a single round to dispatch of the little-known Gonzalo Lopez Rodriguez. ‘The Dream’ would be 4-0 by the time he competed on home soil.
Less than seven years later, coming far, far sooner than either he or Bill, his father and trainer, could have ever anticipated, the 23-year-old now stands alone as the face of the lightweight division. One name, one champion: for the first time since 1990 – and the first time ever in the four-belt era – the 135lb division has an undisputed champion.
It comes following an historic match-up at the Marvel Stadium, Australia, as over 50,000 fight-hungry fans welcomed their newfound hero George Kambosos Jr home, in what was the biggest fight Down Under since Jeff Horn defeated Manny Pacquiao in 2017, arguably the country’s biggest fight of all time.
Devin Haney became undisputed lightweight champion with victory over George Kambosos Jr
The American dazzled from start to finish, defeating the Australian via unanimous decision
Tattooed on Kambosos Jr’s back are the words ‘never retreat never surrender’. It pays homage to the Spartan War Chant the Aussie hero – born to parents of Greek descent – lives and swears by. And indeed, he was game from start to finish.
But Haney, who became the youngest undisputed champion in the four-belt era with the unanimous decision win – with two scores of 116-112 and one of 118-110 – was simply too good on the night, with his hand speed and footwork utterly electric.
Aged just 23, Haney – already the holder of the WBC belt – added the WBA, WBO and IBF titles to his now full collection, one which puts him in total control of the lightweight division.
Though gracious in defeat, Kambosos Jr, 28, after suffering just the first loss of his 21-fight career, insisted he will activate a contractually-agreed rematch clause, with a second bout between the pair to come later this year.
Haney becomes the youngest undisputed champion in the four-belt era with his victory
But Kambosos Jr in the immediate aftermath insisted he will activate his contractually-agreed rematch clause
The Australian also insisted he would allow Haney, 23, his time in the spotlight after what was a magnificent performance
The fight, which took place in Australia following Kambosos Jr’s shock victory over Teofimo Lopez last year to become unified champion, was unusually held in the afternoon for those Down Under, making it prime time television for those in the United States.
A key sub-plot in the build-up to the blockbuster bout was whether Haney’s father would be allowed into the country to corner his son as he usually would. Having initially been denied due to a 30-year-old drug conviction, the American was granted access at the last minute, in what was a key victory for Haney.
‘The Dream’ entered the ring – albeit having initially left the crowd waiting – with a real swagger, almost an aura of invincibility as if he knew what was to come.
From the off, the American – who moved to 28-0 with the win – established his authority behind the jab, knocking Kambosos Jr’s head back on numerous occasions, steadily marking the Australian up as he built a healthy lead.
By round two, there was already some reddening on the frustrated face of Kambosos Jr who, although sporadically offering signs of threat, was never able to land a combination or a sustained attack of note.
Haney was now flowing, fluent and boxing beautifully. Changing the angles, using every inch of the ring and expertly feinting to keep his opponent at bay, a masterclass was on show. A telling moment came in the third, with Kambosos Jr launching in with a wild left-hook, one which missed by a mile.
By the midway point Kambosos Jr was in trouble. With each passing round, his chances of a points win decreased, while the need for a knockout increased. But, such was Haney’s composure, movement and skill, no opportunity ever arose.
By the mid-rounds Haney had assembled a healthy lead, with Kambosos Jr largely frustrated throughout
It was Haney’s jab that proved his most useful weapon, with Kambosos Jr simply unable to close the distance
Kambosos Jr tried to up the tempo in the business rounds but walked onto a number of heavy shots
A key victory for Haney was that he had his father Bill (centre right) in his corner throughout, having initially been prohibited from entering the country due to a 30-year-old conviction
Kambosos Jr’s corner screamed for more combinations as the business end of the fight approached, knowing the single shots wouldn’t be enough the drastically shift the momentum of the bout.
But as he increased the urgency, he walked onto a sizzling left hook that knocked him off balance in the penultimate round, a shot that was followed by another pinpoint right.
In the final round, with Haney’s victory secured, the American simply waltzed around the ring, cruising to what was ultimately a fairly easy victory.
Kambosos Jr acted with humility in the immediate aftermath, insisting the pair will do battle once more.
‘I want to take the best tests, the hardest tests,’ he said. ‘We’ll do it again. I thought the fight was very close, but look, I’m not gonna wreck his moment.
‘All respect to him,’ he continued. ‘I take the risk, I fight the best of the best. I didn’t have to fight him. F*** protecting records.’
Haney too was gracious in victory, thanking his Aussie counterpart for the opportunity and admitting having his father alongside him was crucial.
‘This is a dream come true,’ he said. ‘I was going through it without my dad being here, because I knew this was a big moment for both of us. It would have hurt me to accomplish this without him.’
The lightweight pair were respectful after the fight, coming together and voicing their mutual respect
The attention will quickly turn to the rematch, but after what was such a one-sided encounter, the fans may look elsewhere.
Gervonta Davis owns the WBA ‘regular’ belt and will no doubt want a crack after defeating Rolando Romero. As will Vasyl Lomachenko, who was initially set to fight Kambosos Jr, before returning to Ukraine to help his country fight off Vladimir Putin’s Russian forces.
There is also Shakur Stevenson and Ryan Garcia, both of whom could make an impression in what has become one of boxing’s finest divisions.
But for now, it’s time for Haney to celebrate after becoming just the eighth men’s undisputed champion in the four-belt era.
story by Matt Davies