It would be hard to argue that one division that has been able to make the most of the ongoing global COVID-19 epidemic is Boxing’s 135lb. Lightweight division. A division that traditionally has been one of the sport’s most historic and talent-deep weight classes having provided numerous memorable battles through the years. In recent times, the division has seen several fighters vying for position as they look to make their claim as the number one Lightweight in the world.
As most know, the recent Lightweight world championship unification bout between Vasyl Lomachenko and Teofimo Lopez in October determined the Undisputed Lightweight world championship for the time being. A fight won by Lopez in a convincing unanimous decision, has created buzz as to who the first challenger for Lopez’ undisputed world championship might be.
Undefeated Lightweight contender Devin Haney would appear to be on a short-list of potential opponents. Much like Lopez, Haney is unbeaten and holds interim/regular champion status in the World Boxing Council’s (WBC) Lightweight ratings, a designation that will be discussed further later in this column, but one that in simple terms makes Haney the number one contender as far as the WBC is concerned to challenge Lopez who holds the undisputed championship.
As is usually the case for fighters who fully unify world championships below the Heavyweight division however, the question of whether an undisputed champion will remain in their weight class or set their sights on potential opportunities in a higher weight division is one that is often asked. A more specific question is what could the most lucrative opportunity be that might be available to the champion either in their division or elsewhere.
For the fighters in the champion’s current division, it creates a scenario where they must make the most convincing argument they can as a potential opponent for the champion’s next fight. Following Gervonta Davis, who was able to make his own case as a potential opponent for Lopez with his knockout win over Leo Santa Cruz on Halloween night in San Antonio, TX, Haney’s opportunity to make his own argument came on November 7th at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, FL as he faced former unified Featherweight world champion Yuriorkis Gamboa. Not only did the former Olympic Gold medalist and former unified world champion in the professional ranks Gamboa represent what some might call the most significant test of Haney’s career thus far, he also had a unique distinction as being a recent opponent of Gervonta Davis. A fight where Gamboa fought through a torn right Achilles before being stopped in the twelfth round in December of last year.
While it was logical to assume what the thirty-eight year old Gamboa would have left to give especially coming off of such a severe injury that has ended the careers of many throughout all of sports, Gamboa’s pedigree both as an amateur and a pro made this an interesting test for Haney. One that Haney would show he was ready for.
From the opening bell, Haney would use his height and reach advantage to dictate the combat and keep Gamboa from being able to close the gap and make it a more difficult fight for the twenty -one year old Haney who was competing in his twenty-fifth professional bout. Although the twelve round mostly tactically fought bout did not provide much in the way of exciting highlights or back and forth action, the highlight of this fight was the discipline Haney was able to show by maintaining distance where he would be most effective, counter punching effectively throughout the fight and out working his more experienced opponent over the course of twelve rounds to end a lopsided unanimous decision victory.
Although this fight did not provided much in the way of thrills for the viewing audience, Haney’s performance against Gamboa did have some similarities to the performance that Teofimo Lopez was able to produce against Vasyl Lomachenko. Similarities in that much like Lopez, Haney was able to stay disciplined throughout and stuck to what was by all accounts a masterful Boxing strategy against a fighter in Gamboa, who while perhaps on the back end of a fine career, is still an extremely skilled and crafty fighter that is not necessarily easy to look good against.
The difference between the two performances was Lopez had been known more for his ability to score quick knockouts and his ability to out box Vasyl Lomachenko was not thought of as a possibility by some due largely to Lomachenko being a master boxer. While Devin Haney has scored some head-turning knockouts of his own in his career, his overall Boxing ability had not been questioned.
With his victory over Yuriorkis Gamboa now in the books, has Devin Haney made a strong enough case for himself as potentially the next opponent for Teofimo Lopez? Now, we enter the portion in this column where the business aspects of the sport must be discussed, and examined before answering that question.
Although the concept of interim/regular champion designations is not a new one in Boxing, it more often than not creates more confusion amongst the general fan base rather than being the well-intentioned structure that governing bodies/sanctioning organizations had hoped it would be. In recent times the WBC has adapted a similar structure to that of the World Boxing Association (WBA), that designates unified world champions as WBA “Super“ champions as they hold more than one world title in a given weight class, where the top two contenders in the WBA’s ratings holding an interim/regular champion designation followed by a top ten listing of top contenders under those two fighters who hold those designations below the unified world champion.
In a similar way, the WBC has instituted a “Franchise champion” designation for those fighters who hold unified or undisputed world championships in a given division.Currently in the Lightweight division, Teofimo Lopez holds both the WBC and WBA world championships as part of his Undisputed Lightweight world championship. What this means as far as the WBC is Devin Haney holds an interim designation and is in actuality the number one contender as the WBC is concerned. Where it can get confusing for a fan not in the know, is the WBC has an interim championship bout scheduled in the Lightweight division scheduled for December 5th between former Lightweight world champion Luke Campbell and undefeated rising prospect Ryan Garcia. While this does not hold the name labels as the WBA’s interim/regular designations below the unified world champion, it is essentially the same structure.
Similarly, Gervonta Davis holds an interim/regular champion designation in the WBA’s Lightweight ratings so while this creates a scenario where both Haney and Davis could be next in line, it may come down to which organization is due its turn in the annual rotation of mandatory challengers that a unified or undisputed world champion is obligated to face annually. What also needs to be considered is the fact that all three fighters are represented by rival promoters who have worked together in the past to make fights happen, but have not established an ongoing collaboration to ensure fights like these potential two encounters for Teofimo Lopez happen on a regular basis, despite the benefits such a collaboration would bring to the sport overall.
While an argument can be made for both Haney or Davis as being next for Lopez, if the WBC is next in the rotation, I believe Haney may offer a difficult puzzle for the champion to solve. Although an argument could also be made that the reputations of both Lopez and Davis as power punchers would give the impression of a more explosive fight, Haney has also shown punching power and has also shown the ability to be elusive and crafty as a boxer. It would also be interesting to see if Haney would be more willing to engage with Lopez more than Lomachenko was able to do.
Of course, as always seems to be the case in Boxing, circumstances can change at any time and this does not factor into the equation both the financial interests that are involved as well as how whatever the outcome of the upcoming Campbell-Garcia bout might effect things heading into 2021. As it has been through many decades however, the Lightweight division will remain front and center in the spotlight of the most compelling and competitive divisions in the entire sport.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
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