For nearly 10 full rounds on Saturday, WBC lightweight champion Devin Haney seemed to be even better than advertised in his biggest fight to date. But the 22-year-old was hurt by former three-division champion Jorge Linares late and was forced to cautiously survive until the final bell.
Fighting off boos from the crowd at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas for excessive holding in Round 12, Haney (26-0, 15 KOs) came away with a unanimous decision win that was closer on the three judges’ scorecards than the majority of the fight seemed to suggest.
Haney, in the third defense of his WBC title at 135 pounds (Teofimo Lopez Jr. is the WBC franchise champion), took home scores of 116-112, 116-112 and 115-113. CBS Sports also scored the fight for Haney, 117-111.
“I came in here and got the win and I’m satisfied,” Haney said. “The fans wanted to see if I could walk my opponent down and I showed it all. I could box and I could bang. He hit me with a big shot late but I faced adversity for the first time and I survived. I didn’t get dropped and I didn’t get hurt. I got hit with a big shot and [the crowd] acted crazy.”
Linares (47-6, 29 KOs) was widely outlanded throughout by a margin of 215 to 116, according to CompuBox, until his surge that began late in Round 10. Yet having entered the fight in fantastic physical shape at 35, the story of this one wasn’t about his age or accrued wear and tear.
Instead, this very much looked to be the true coming-out party for Haney following a pair of passive and boring victories in his last two fights against Alfredo Santiago and Yuriorkis Gamboa. Haney was aggressive and slick without being irresponsible defensively as he targeted Linares’ body and routinely gave the veteran fits with his speed advantage.
Then, suddenly, all of that appeared to change in the closing seconds of Round 10 when a beautiful three-punch combination from Linares, which ended with a short right cross, sent Haney staggering back to his corner after the bell.
“It was a good shot,” Haney said. “I was never hurt and I still continued to box smart. You still have to continue to do what you can and I did that.”
Linares attacked Haney in Round 11 and twice more appeared to hurt him with short left hooks. The crowd slowly began to boo the more Haney routinely forced a clinch in order to get his legs back under him but Linares cemented the round in his favor with a trio of right hands on the break late.
The final round, however, saw Haney appear to deserve the negative attention he was receiving from the crowd. Despite being aggressive to open the round, Haney exclusively held over the final 90 seconds, including a sequence in which he was separated from the clinch with Linares by referee Russell Mora only run forward to grab Linares again around the waist.
“[In Round 12], I continued to box smart and use my jab and my feints. That’s what I continued to do,” Haney said. “I knew that he was going to come in here and this was a huge opportunity for him so he was going to do whatever it was needed. He took big shots from me.”
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Haney was asked after the fight whether he would be interested next in a unification fight of sorts against Lopez, who holds all four recognized titles at 135 after upsetting Vasiliy Lomachenko in 2020 (despite the WBC muddying the waters by recognizing him as franchise champion). It’s a difficult bout to make politically although Haney showed interest.
“Of course I want to make the biggest fights happen,” Haney said. “If Teofimo Lopez is next, let’s do it. Let’s do it for all the belts and the real undisputed.”