Lightweight Devin Haney wants to be ‘first billionaire boxer’

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·5 min read

On Saturday, Devin Haney will be the last boxer to make the walk to the ring at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Seminole, Florida, as he prepares to fight 2004 Olympic gold medalist Yuriorkis Gamboa in a lightweight bout that serves as the main event of a card streamed on DAZN.

Haney will be introduced as the WBC champion, and he’ll have the familiar green belt wrapped around his waist should he win.

Haney, 21, is one of the elite talents in boxing and an almost guaranteed future star.

But WBC champion? Well, that’s a bit confusing.

On Oct. 12, five days ahead of the lightweight title unification bout in Las Vegas between Vasiliy Lomachenko and Teofimo Lopez, WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman held a Zoom call with U.S.-based boxing reporters.

Lopez entered that bout as the IBF champion. He’d knocked out Richard Commey in New York in December to win the championship. Lomachenko entered the bout with the WBA-WBO belts and the WBC franchise belt. In 2018, he stopped Jorge Linares to win the WBC lightweight championship, but then was granted the organization’s franchise designation.

Only two boxers, Canelo Alvarez and Lomachenko, had that designation at the time. According to WBC rules, it was non-transferrable. The franchise title was created, Sulaiman said, for special fighters who compete in multiple weight classes and having the designation will relieve them of mandatory challenge obligations.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 27: (EDITOR'S NOTE: This image has been converted to black and white). Devin Haney trains during the Devin Haney Media Workout at Rathbone Boxing Club on September 27, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Jack Thomas/Getty Images)
Devin Haney hits the heavy bag during a recent training session. (Photo by Jack Thomas/Getty Images)

During that same Zoom call, Sulaiman said that Lopez had requested, and been granted, the recognition as franchise champion should he win. Sulaiman, though, was unequivocal before the fight that Lomachenko, and not Haney, was the WBC lightweight champion.

“Lomachenko is the WBC lightweight champion,” Sulaiman said when asked directly. “He won [the title] and petitioned for the ‘franchise’ designation. The franchise is put above any champion in the lightweight category. So, Lomachenko is, in fact, champion with special attributes. He doesn’t have to face the mandatories that normally come when you win a vacant title. He was named franchise and he could go ahead and make this fight with Teofimo Lopez.”

So Haney has a belt and he’ll get the only benefit that champions receive, in that he’ll keep the championship in event of a draw. But is he really a champion?

Well, not really.

But trying to make sense of what any of boxing’s sanctioning bodies do with their belts will quickly drive one batty. It often seems the WBA names new champions inside the divisions each week, so there are always multiple people who call themselves WBA champions.

Lomachenko attempted to defend the WBA belt against Lopez on Oct. 17, but last weekend, Gervonta “Tank” Davis retained the WBA lightweight belt with a sensational knockout of Leo Santa Cruz in San Antonio, Texas.

Haney is an incredible talent who has faced the lowest level of opposition of all the elite young lightweights, including Lopez, Davis and Ryan Garcia. Gamboa, who was once elite but is now well past his prime and serving as a stepping stone sort of opponent, is easily the best opposition Haney has faced.

But Haney’s a remarkable talent with blinding speed. A prime Haney versus a prime Gamboa would have been an amazing bout, pitting two of the quickest fighters ever, but Gamboa’s speed is no longer what it was.

Still, Haney is eager to show what he can do with a guy of Gamboa’s stature. Gamboa, 38, was stopped by Davis at 1:17 of the 12th round in what turned out to be a more difficult than expected win for Davis.

“Gamboa has done a lot in the sport, and the fact that he gave a lot of fighters tough fights says a lot about him,” Haney said. “I want to prove a point in this bout that a lot of people are not mentioning my name among the best in the world, and I am looking to change that by putting forth a performance against Gamboa that no one has ever seen before. I respect Gamboa as a fighter, but in the ring, I will have no respect for him at all. In the ring he is my enemy.”

Haney, who was 5 when Gamboa won his gold medal for Cuba, needs to get into the mix with Lopez, Davis and Garcia. Garcia is fighting Luke Campbell in a WBC eliminator on Dec. 5 that will stream on DAZN.

Garcia told Yahoo Sports that his preference would be to fight Davis next if he beats Campbell, but a Haney-Garica fight would be fascinating.

Any combination of them together would be great, and Haney seems of a mind to do it.

“Obviously, a win gives me my second world title defense, which is very important to me,” Haney said. “Title defenses show a lot about what kind of fighter you really are. I don’t care how you won it or who you won it from. Can you defend the world title against all challengers? That’s what I represent as a throwback champion. You can have a strategy to get there but when you become a champion you become a target.

“Tank Davis, Teofimo Lopez and Ryan Garcia are all great potential opponents for me. I’d rather fight sooner than later, but they have to feel the same way about me. I have a goal to be the first billionaire boxer, and to do that I have to put forth billion-dollar performances.”

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