What’s next for Devin Haney? Teofimo, Tank, Garcia are top targets

A45I8167.0 - What’s next for Devin Haney? Teofimo, Tank, Garcia are top targetsMelina Pizano/Matchroom

Devin Haney retained his belt on Saturday, and now looks forward to — hopefully — a stiffer challenge.

Devin Haney has done a terrific job of promoting himself and getting his name out there over the years, and after signing a deal with Matchroom Boxing in the spring of 2019, his exposure has only grown.

He’s good about keeping himself in the headlines and the discussion. He’s in the right weight class now, too, as lightweight has exploded in interest thanks to Teofimo Lopez upsetting Vasiliy Lomachenko, Gervonta “Tank” Davis scoring a wicked KO of Leo Santa Cruz (even though that fight was at 130), and Ryan Garcia redefining how fighters can promote themselves through social media, attaining a big fan base even without, to date, big opponents.

Haney, 21, is no Garcia at social media (nobody else is close yet), but he’s used different tactics to also achieve a level of notoriety that out-paces his level of opposition. In both cases, it’s obvious that they have a lot of talent. But we’ve seen a lot of “lot of talent” fighters flame out when the going got tough. We have not seen the going get tough yet for either young man.

Devin Haney’s best win to date is probably Zaur Abdullaev, the man he beat for the interim WBC lightweight title in 2019, before Vasiliy Lomachenko vacated the full WBC belt, and Haney was then promoted to full champion status. Abdullaev was kind of borderline top 10 at the time; you could have squeezed him into the back end of an independent top 10 at 135 pounds, but it was no clear case.

Otherwise? Not a lot of meat on the bones of Haney’s record. Last night in Florida, Yuriorkis Gamboa proved, to little surprise, to be the old, under-sized fighter critics said he was when the fight was signed, as Haney routed the Cuban over 12 rounds, but still didn’t really impress. Teofimo Lopez and Gervonta Davis were quick to get in comical reactions. And even those who don’t have an axe to grind or a potential fight to hype, who were more reasoned and chill in their assessments, had trouble selling what Haney did against Gamboa as “exciting” or “worth spending a Saturday evening.”

Gamboa isn’t a top 10 lightweight. If you want my honest opinion, Gamboa is not a top 25 lightweight. And the likes of Alfredo Santiago, Antonio Moran, Xolisani Ndongeni, and Juan Carlos Burgos aren’t and weren’t, either.

Haney is young. Promoter/network pushes, a lot of media compliance with those pushes, and sanctioning bodies doling out belts like my bank giving me a cheap tool set when I signed up for my first checking account decades ago have made it so that quite often, people can get a little impatient with the step-by-step progress of young fighters, when there’s a really good argument that they’re progressing exactly as they should. Look, some folks are phenoms who can fight at the very elite level at 20-23. Most folks aren’t.

But anyway, what comes now for Haney?

Teofimo Lopez

1280839703.jpg - What’s next for Devin Haney? Teofimo, Tank, Garcia are top targetsPhoto by Mikey Williams/Top Rank via Getty Images

Lopez (16-0, 12 KO) was the name Haney directly mentioned in his immediate post-fight interview. The 23-year-old is one of the hottest names in boxing today, owing to his Oct. 17 upset of Vasiliy Lomachenko, which saw Lopez add the WBA and WBO lightweight belts to the IBF title he successfully defended.

I won’t launch into the issues of the WBC title or Lopez’s claim to being undisputed champion, because it’s all technicality mumbo-jumbo, really, and I fundamentally agree with most of you: Lopez is The Man at 135, he’s the guy to beat.

And at any rate, no matter how you look at the issue or whatever reasoning you have to get there, Lopez-Haney would be an undisputed title fight. That rules. Two good, young fighters with undefeated records. That rules. Maybe Lopez, with his style and confidence, pushes Haney to show what Haney insists he has in his skill set but kind of failed to show against Gamboa in particular. That could rule.

The problem comes down to, as usual, promotional and network ties. DAZN and Matchroom see Haney as a possible cornerstone, and they’ve certainly tried to push less interesting fighters as potential cornerstones. Top Rank and ESPN, obviously, don’t just see Lopez as a cornerstone, he already definitely is one, and he might be a superstar. He has the ingredients on paper.

So where do you do that fight? It might seem obvious that it’s ESPN — bigger audience, and their guy is “the guy” — but DAZN and Matchroom are paying Haney enough that he’s also bragged about being the highest-paid lightweight champion in the game right now. But ESPN and Top Rank are not going to send Lopez to DAZN to fight Haney, not because of worry over favoritism or whatever, it’s not that, it’s just not worth it for them, because their guy is the bigger star, and by quite a bit. And if DAZN won’t let Haney go to ESPN airwaves, then it’s just not happening right now.

For the record, I am 100 percent confident Lopez would take the fight unless the offer was a total low-ball that he’d be mad to accept. I cannot be as confident that Haney would take a reasonable offer. That’s not a knock on Haney or even a doubt about him personally, it’s just we haven’t seen evidence of him stepping up to that level. Lopez has.

Gervonta Davis

028 Gervonta Davis x Leo Santa Cruz - What’s next for Devin Haney? Teofimo, Tank, Garcia are top targetsEsther Lin/SHOWTIME

Davis (24-0, 23 KO) is coming off of a scintillating knockout of Leo Santa Cruz on Oct. 31, and like Lopez, has a lot of buzz and heat at the moment. The 25-year-old “Tank” is in a similar, maybe even more hardened situation as Lopez, though: promoter and network ties.

Davis is a PBC guy, specifically with Mayweather Promotions, has become one of Showtime Boxing’s top names, and just headlined his first pay-per-view. As we said last week discussing Tank’s next options, it’s not going to be easy to get him off of pay-per-view now that he’s done it. It could happen, but the focus will be on keeping him there every fight if at all possible.

Davis-Haney might be even harder to make than Lopez-Haney. It’s not that promoters won’t work together, or that networks can’t figure things out, but the fights either need to be really, really big compared to other options for those fighters, or they need to be, like, involving fighters who aren’t necessarily top tier assets for the promoter/network involved.

So that’s why, yes, you can get Top Rank/PBC and ESPN/FOX to work together on a Fury-Wilder PPV, or why Top Rank/Matchroom and ESPN/DAZN will work something out like last year, where Luke Campbell went over to ESPN to fight Vasiliy Lomachenko, and Jose Ramirez came over to DAZN to fight Maurice Hooker.

But DAZN see Haney, again, as a guy they can build their still struggling brand around. And ESPN definitely see Lopez as a top star, and Showtime definitely see Tank as one. But neither Lopez-Haney nor Davis-Haney is that big, if that makes sense. For the time being, there are other fights that will do comparable numbers and are much easier to make. This, then, why you’re not going to see Spence-Crawford until PBC are out of name brand welterweights for Errol Spence Jr, or Errol Spence Jr forces his promoter’s hand and demands it.

PBC simply don’t have a compelling enough (to them) reason to work through all the kinks and complications required to get Spence-Crawford done when they can do, as they have done, Spence against Shawn Porter and next Danny Garcia, and they’ve still got, perhaps, Manny Pacquiao, Keith Thurman (I know), and maybe even Yordenis Ugas to go to instead. (For the record, I think we’re going to see Spence-Crawford, because I legitimately think Errol will ask for it. But this is why it hasn’t happened yet or come very close.)

Ryan Garcia or Luke Campbell

GarciaFonseca Hoganphotos - What’s next for Devin Haney? Teofimo, Tank, Garcia are top targetsTom Hogan-Hoganphotos/Golden Boy

Of the bigger ideas, this one is the most likely to happen, and the easiest to make for a couple of reasons.

Garcia (20-0, 17 KO) and Campbell (20-3, 16 KO) are set to meet on Dec. 5 in California, in what is technically a WBC eliminator, with the interim title at stake. Does an interim title need to exist? Of course not, but then a “franchise title” didn’t need to be made up other than to satisfy the ego of a famous name.

As for the interim tag, though, that’s what Haney had before he was promoted upon the creation of the ego/avoidance belt. That belt came into play because Lomachenko didn’t want to have to deal with an order to fight Haney, and Haney was going to want to enforce his mandatory. So the Garcia-Campbell winner will be in the position Haney was. Maybe they can make up another new belt for Haney to get “elevated” to and the Garcia-Campbell winner will get a nice email a few weeks later, too.

But if not, the winner here is relatively easy to make a fight with because all three fighters are DAZN guys, Campbell via Matchroom and Garcia via his tenuous professional relationship with Golden Boy, which for some reason has lately seen Oscar De La Hoya extremely supportive of Garcia publicly, just a few months after slighting and squabbling with him, also publicly.

Garcia has said that the Haney fight doesn’t excite him, but he’ll run into the same issues trying to make a fight with Lopez or Davis that Haney would. Garcia is seen by DAZN as perhaps an even bigger building block, and Lopez and Tank aren’t coming to DAZN airwaves any time soon.

If it’s Garcia after Dec. 5, you’ve got a great matchup of young fighters who know one another well from the amateurs. They’ve talked a little trash, but they’ve also expressed a legitimate respect for the other man’s skills.

If it’s Campbell after Dec. 5, then you’ve got Campbell coming off his biggest pro win by quite a bit, as hot as he’s going to get right now, a former Olympic gold medalist and a very credible step-up foe for Haney.

This might be everyone’s “third choice,” but for a third choice it’s pretty damn good.

Someone Else

1206367660.jpg - What’s next for Devin Haney? Teofimo, Tank, Garcia are top targetsPhoto by Tom Hogan/Golden Boy/Getty Images

The WBC rankings have not been updated since Loma-Lopez happened, but the only big change is going to be where they rank Vasiliy Lomachenko now that he has no belts and is eligible to be ranked.

Prior to that fight, the top 10 contenders by WBC ranking were:

  1. Javier Fortuna
  2. Luke Campbell
  3. Ryan Garcia
  4. Jorge Linares
  5. Yvan Mendy
  6. Richard Commey
  7. Zaur Abdullaev
  8. Emmanuel Tagoe
  9. Francesco Patera
  10. Yuriorkis Gamboa

Haney has beaten Abdullaev and Gamboa already. Garcia is set to fight Campbell. Fortuna (35-2-1, 24 KO) is rolling with PBC at the moment, he returns on Nov. 21, and he basically wound up passing on an interim title fight with Campbell, which was a whole other situation, and a fight that was going to happen before COVID shut the sport down.

Linares (47-5, 29 KO) was going to fight Garcia in the spring, but that didn’t materialize, and neither did his fight with Fortuna, which was set for August, before Linares tested positive for COVID. He hasn’t really been in the discussion since that got scrapped and Fortuna decided to move on instead of rescheduling. (Fortuna’s had to move on from a lot this year.) Linares has the skill set to be a problem for anyone unless/until he gets caught with a big shot or cut. I’d have no particular issue with Haney-Linares, honestly.

Mendy (45-5-1, 22 KO) is a 35-year-old French fighter who has stayed in his territorial lane after his 2018 rematch loss to Campbell, whom he’d beaten in 2015, and he also followed that up by fighting exclusively in France. He honestly never tried to use the win over Campbell — which was Luke’s first, and an upset at the time — to springboard to anything bigger. He seemed mostly content that it happened at all until he eventually took a rematch. Mendy is at an age and career stage where he’d probably accept a Haney offer, and he’s a decent fighter, but it’s not a matchup that would excite anyone.

Commey (29-3, 26 KO) is a tough veteran fighter, still a solid contender, but it would be tough to sell him after he got destroyed in two by Teofimo in Dec. 2019. Some might wonder how you could even make a world title fight where the challenger is coming off of an unrelated loss, but the WBC just did it with Haney-Gamboa, so that’s not really an issue. For them, anyway. Commey will fight anyone, but it’s not a great look to fight two straight guys coming off of losses to dudes who have more name value, especially when the first time you failed to deliver your promised sensational domination that was going to top what The Other Guy did.

Tagoe (31-1, 15 KO) is a 31-year-old from Ghana who has fought all but one of his bouts in his home country. (The one wasn’t a loss, it was a 2013 win over Gerardo Robles in California. His loss came in his pro debut in 2004.) Back in July, the WBO ordered an eliminator between Ryan Garcia and Tagoe, but that wound up going nowhere as the WBC had ordered Garcia-Campbell five days earlier, and Campbell’s a much bigger name than Tagoe. Tagoe has done well against his level of opposition but has no name value, and as such could be high-risk, mediocre-reward in the eyes of the public.

Patera (23-3, 8 KO) is the European champion and a solid fighter, but it’s another one that will excite nobody. The 27-year-old Belgian doesn’t have the name value. When I say that with Tagoe and Patera, I mean to tell you that they don’t even have the name value of a faded Gamboa. I think both have a much better chance at actually competing with Haney than Gamboa did, both are at least not old featherweights, but we all know qualifications to be competitive are often not a big reason fights get made.

The next five contenders, as of this moment, are Shuichiro Yoshino, Lee Selby (who just lost a fight), Felix Verdejo (who fights on Dec. 12), Viktor Kotochigov (who just lost a fight), and Marcos Villasana Jr.

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