LAS VEGAS – Devin Haney managed to restore order in the lightweight division.
On the heels of Sydney’s George Kambosos Jr. shocking Teofimo Lopez to claim the lineal/WBA/IBF/WBO 135-pound crown, Haney avoided a letdown in turning away the challenge of former IBF junior lightweight titlist Joseph ‘JoJo’ Diaz to defend his WBC lightweight title. A contentious buildup to the fight ended with Haney winning Saturday evening at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Judges Tim Cheatham (116-112), Max DeLuca (117-111) and Dave Moretti (117-111) all scored in favor of Haney in a competitive but clear win for the defending champ.
There was no advantage to Haney fighting in his hometown, with the cheers of his local fans drowned out by passionate chants of ‘JoJo’ throughout the night.
Diaz was first to strike, connecting with a jab to the body out of the southpaw stance. The measured approach came as advertised by Diaz, a 2012 U.S. Olympian and former titlist who vowed to use the early rounds to see what Haney had to offer rather than recklessly force a slugfest. Haney gained momentum midway through the round, working his jab and following with straight rights.
Haney took the lead in round two, allowing Diaz to come forward and then tag him with right hands. The defending champ was particularly effective with his body work, connecting with a straight right to the solar plexus that briefly froze Diaz in his tracks. He was also warned by referee Russell Mora for low blows, though otherwise kept it clean,
Round three saw Haney mix up his attack, constantly touching Diaz with body shots and following with a right uppercut to Diaz’s chin. Diaz continued to walk forward behind a high guard, looking for counter opportunities that were far too infrequent for the South El Monte, California native, who avoided a scare late in the round when he was briefly defenseless after tripping over Haney’s foot and stumbling into the ropes.
Action picked up in round four, as did the crowd reaction. Diaz pressed the attack but was too overzealous as he pitched forward in pushing Haney to the canvas. Mora warned Diaz for the infraction, though a far cleaner sequence came moments later as Diaz landed a left hand that forced Haney to clinch. Diaz took a right hand from Haney, responding with a counter left upstairs. Haney quickly rebounded, landing a right to the body and then sticking a stiff jab in Diaz’s face near the end of the round.
Haney opened round five with a concentrated body attack. The 23-year-old would alternate between leading with his jab and shooting a straight right downstairs, enjoying success on multiple occasions. Diaz drew a rise out of the crowd with left hands along the ropes, all of which Haney either blocked or managed to absorb without incident. Another warning for low blows was issued to Haney, though the punch in question appeared to be borderline.
Diaz connected with a right hook to the body, followed by a left hand in round six. It came after Haney controlled the earlier portion of the round, though you wouldn’t know it as the crowd erupted anytime Diaz came close to landing a power shot. Hany twice attempted overhand rights, picked off by Diaz’s high guard on both occasions and the latter countered by a left hand to the body.
Diaz enjoyed his most sustained success to that point of the fight in round seven. Haney left his chin exposed just enough for Diaz to sail a left hand over his attempted shoulder roll defense. Diaz continued to connect with his left, which Haney took well though also forced to adjust his defense which in turned limited his ability to take the lead for the first time in the fight.
Haney boxed more in round eight, effectively fighting in reverse and drawing Diaz into his punching range with alternating jabs and lead right hands. Momentum was stalled in round nine, as Mora issued a two-way warning for both fighters to keep it clean. Diaz used the sequence to turn the tide, raking Haney’s body with right hooks and brining the weapon up top to snap back Haney’s head.
Diaz carried over momentum into a productive start to round ten. Haney sought to reestablish his jab, but was met with left hands by Diaz both upstairs and to the below just under Haney’s guard. Haney adjusted, working his jab and right hand and ending the round with Diaz pinned against the ropes as he landed a right hand just as the bell sounded.
Haney’s dazzling hand speed was on display at the start of round eleven. Diaz looked for a home for his left hand, only to walk into a jab and left hook. Momentum never quite swung back in Diaz’s favor, as any combination was met by a jab or a right hand.
Diaz let his hands go at the start of round twelve, clipping Haney with a shot upstairs with a little more than two minutes left in the fight. Haney maintained his composure, catching Diaz with straight rights before tasting a left hand to the chin. Haney rode out the brief storm, using his superior hand speed to control the action in the final minute.
“I had him hurt at the start of the twelfth round but the fuckin’ Vaseline got in my eyes,” noted Diaz, who landed 140-of-573 total punches (24%). “I was trying to clean that up so I could get him with a good shot again, but couldn’t get it done.”
Haney—who landed 164-of-614 total punches (27%), including 154-of-403 power punches (38%)—advances to 27-0 (15KOs) with the win, registering the fourth defense of the WBC title he has held since late 2019. The bout marked his second consecutive headliner in his Las Vegas hometown though is prepared to literally travel around the world in his quest to become undisputed champion.
Diaz falls to 32-2-1 (15KOs) with the loss, his first since a failed WBC featherweight title bid versus Gary Russell Jr. in May 2018. Diaz went 6-0-1 in subsequent fights, including his IBF junior lightweight title-winning effort over Tevin Farmer last January in Miami Gardens.
The title reign ended at the scale, badly missing weight ahead of an eventual draw with Shavkat Rakhimov in February. A move up in weight came right on time for Diaz, who replaced Ryan Garcia (21-0, 18KOs) in a WBC interim lightweight title winning effort over Javier Fortuna in July. His luck ran out on Saturday, as Haney proved to be too much and too focused to allow the upset trend to continue.
Just don’t expect him to walk away from this level.
“I feel like I belong with the best and I’m going to keep on challenging the best until my career is over,” vowed Diaz.
Meanwhile, Haney moves onward and upward. The clear goal all along has been to become undisputed champion. It was a desire of Haney when Lopez had all the belts and remains firm in place as Kambosos continues to his media tour while relishing in his newfound role of lightweight king. The early insistence by the unbeaten Aussie is that his first title defense—no matter whom against—will have to take place down under.
Haney is among a list of formidable titlists and challengers that also includes: former three-division titlsit Vasiliy Lomachenko (15-2, 11KOs) who faces Richard Commey on December 11; Gervonta 'Tank' Davis (25-0, 24KOs), who defends his WBA "World" lightweight title versus Isaac Cruz (22-1-1, 15KOs) atop a Showtime Pay-Per-View event Sunday evening in Los Angeles; unbeaten contender Ryan Garcia (21-0, 18KOs) who is due to return in the first quarter of 2022; and even Lopez, though a move to 140 seems his more likely next step.
At first glance, the bout that makes the most sense is the one that will crown an undisputed champion. The one guy who holds that final chip insists he is willing to go anywhere in the world—and beyond—to make that happen.
“I’ll fight him on Jupiter if I have to,” promised Haney.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox