Between the 11th and 12th rounds, it was the younger man who sat on his stool, breathing deep, his features swollen but not hiding the surprised look across his visage. Undisputed lightweight king Devin Haney, 24, had been shaken up and damaged by 35-year-old ex-champ Vasiliy Lomachenko in the penultimate round.
It wasn’t meant to be this way.
During the lead-up to the fight, which took place at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Haney told anyone who would listen that he was "bigger and stronger." However, on fight night, neither of those attributes helped the champion, who found himself in front of a rejuvenated Lomachenko who was determined to test him to the full.
MORE: Haney stays undisputed with decision win over Lomachenko
The challenger boxed brilliantly at times, belying his "slow starter" reputation by jumping on his opponent and pressuring him from bell to bell. Lomachenko’s head movement, the judgement of distance, and angle switching rendered Haney’s habitually awesome jab redundant, and his speedy attacks, disguised by the feint, were extremely difficult to counter.
That’s not to say that the champion didn’t have success. A cerebral technician, Haney targeted Loma’s body with solid power shots and whipped in some excellent counters to the head. "The Dream" also made Lomachenko miss many of those signature two-fisted assaults and even matched his opponent’s incredible footwork on some occasions.
Those moments allowed the champion to retain the undisputed championship on a unanimous decision (116-112, 115-113, 115-113). There was just very little for the highlight reel.
Haney kept many rounds close, but he rarely scored anything memorable. It was honest hard work but nothing to write home about. And while he could make Lomachenko miss, the same was true the other way. Those lightning-quick shots that had bedevilled George Kambosos Jr. over 24 rounds in Australia were now cutting holes through the night air.
An emotional Lomachenko reflects backstage. pic.twitter.com/DQGvsrOxBo— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) May 21, 2023
After six rounds I had the fight even, but I only gave Haney one of the last six. My final score was 115-112 (7-4-1 for Lomachenko), but the one thing I did acknowledge prior to the decision being announced was the number of swing rounds in this fight. Despite the fact that Lomachenko won some of his sessions big, Haney was very competitive in some of the rounds I’d scored against him.
I don’t have a monopoly on the truth when it comes to scoring, so a close win for the defending champ was always possible.
When the decision was announced, I wasn't shocked by it. However, if you take a step back, it’s difficult not to feel for Lomachenko. Judges aside, I could count on one hand the number of cards I’ve seen that had him losing. Despite his age, physical disadvantages, and large portions of inactivity due to war in his native Ukraine, Loma turned in what many felt was a winning performance.
His reward for that effort? A third defeat, no belts, and a few tortured souls on social media suggesting he was never that good in the first place. The irony is, had Lomachenko won the decision, today’s debate would have centred around his worthiness as an all-time great. If you’re Team Loma, you will be stung by that inequity.
MORE: Haney vs. Lomachenko, full card results
Maintaining class throughout his post-fight interview, Lomachenko refused to cry foul. Conversely, Bill Haney, Devin’s father and trainer, told ESPN that his son won legitimately and that it "wasn’t close." It’s important to point out that Bill had been struck by a bottle (shocking behaviour by whoever was responsible) when he left the arena. He may see things differently when he watches the fight back.
Boxing is all about fine margins both in terms of what happens in the ring and on the scorecards. Large sections of the sell-out crowd chanted "bulls**t" after the decision was announced, and Haney quickly looked like the unhappiest winner of a mega fight that we’ve seen in a long time. I would be surprised to see him at 135 pounds ever again. He needs the jump to 140.
At 35 years old, Lomachenko is running out of time, but he proved his point, even in defeat. He's a great fighter and that is beyond reproach.