When Ryan Garcia and Luke Campbell square off for the vacant interim WBC lightweight world title in the main event of a Golden Boy Promotions card on Saturday (DAZN, 3 p.m. ET preliminary bouts, 6 p.m. ET main card) at the American Airlines Arena in Dallas, there will be a very interested spectator paying close attention.
It will be WBC world titleholder Devin Haney, who will be part of the DAZN on-site broadcast team. Because the title was vacant when Haney claimed it he has been ordered to make mandatory defenses in his next two fights, per the WBC’s rules. The first mandatory defense is supposed to be against the Garcia-Campbell winner with Javier Fortuna after that.
“I think that it’s a good, solid fight. Whoever wins definitely is worthy of a world title shot,” Haney told BoxingScene.com in an interview. “I think it’s a winnable fight for Luke and I also think it’s a winnable fight for Ryan.”
But Haney has a strong view on who he thinks will emerge as the winner.
“I do see Ryan being victorious. I do think Ryan will beat him fairly easy, easier than a lot of people think, but I don’t think it’s an easy fight,” Haney said. “I think he’s going to beat him from round 1 to round 12. I think he’s going to put a beating on him.
“I take nothing away from Campbell. He’s a warrior and he’s been in there with the best and held his own but I think that’s all he’s done is held his own. He hasn’t beaten any of the top guys. His biggest win was what, Yvan Mendy? And Yvan Mendy beat him first. Yvan Mendy never made it to the elite level or beat any of the elite guys, so I just think that Campbell is a good stepping stone. He’s a good -- I don’t want to say gatekeeper because he’s much better than that -- but he’s a good test.”
Haney (25-0, 15 KOs), 22, of Las Vegas, not only thinks Garcia (20-0, 17 KOs) will win but he will also be rooting for him
“Obviously, I would hope Ryan wins the fight because that just makes for a massive fight between me and him,” Haney said. “Campbell said he’s willing to fight me for the world title but Ryan hasn’t shown urgency to fight me for a world title.”
Haney is part of an enormously talented group of four undefeated lightweights between ages 22 and 25 who could potentially help carry boxing in a series of major fights over the next several years. Besides Haney there is unified world champion Teofimo Lopez Jr. (16-0, 12 KOs), who dethroned Vasiliy Lomachenko in October, secondary world titlist Gervonta Davis (24-0, 23 KOs) and Garcia.
“They’re all huge fights, whether there’s a belt on the line or not,” Haney said. “I hope that we can make the biggest fights happen soon. We’re all maturing. It may be down the road, it may be now. We have to see.”
Haney knocked out Zaur Abdullaev in the fourth round in September 2019 to claim the vacant interim belt and but was eventually elevated to full titleholder when then-champion Vasiliy Lomachenko declined to face him as the mandatory challenger. Instead, Lomachenko asked the WBC to make him a “franchise” champion and he then faced Lopez and lost a decision in their unification fight.
Haney has made two defenses, a shutout of then-undefeated Alfredo Santiago – despite suffering a shoulder injury during the bout – in November 2019 and a similarly one-sided rout of former unified featherweight titlist Yuriorkis Gamboa on Nov. 7.
“I’m happy I got to fight this year. I got the little bit of ring rust off that I had and we can start 2021 off with a bang,” Haney said.
Haney took some criticism for going the distance with the faded Gamboa but said it did not bother him, especially coming off a year layoff and the injury.
“If I was knocking everybody out then they would say can he go the distance? If I was going the distance with everybody they would say can he knock guys out? They’re gonna say something regardless,” Haney said of his critics. “I don’t take it to heart. I don’t take is personally. I understand it comes with the territory that people will find something to say.
“I went in there with Gamboa and I didn’t take any punishment. Who has done that? We don’t remember one punch he hit with me with. Not one big shot. After the fight I felt like I was never in a fight. In the first round Gamboa threw a hook and I caught it on my gloves and I felt the power. Other than that I didn’t feel anything because he didn’t land anything clean. I have a lot respect for him. He’s a veteran of the game. He didn’t go in there to lie down.
Before Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn – who also promotes England’s Campbell (20-3, 16 KOs) -- can arrange Haney’s next bout they must wait for the outcome of Garcia-Campbell.
“We’re just waiting on the winner on Saturday and then we go from there,” Haney said. “We’re looking at April but we don’t know. We just have to see. It depends on Saturday night and how it plays out.”
Haney said if his 2021 campaign consists of fights with Saturday’s winner and Fortuna (36-2-1, 25 KOs), he likes that plan even though he most wants to fight Lopez.
“I think Javier Fortuna is a crafty fighter. He comes to win every single fight. The fight would be fireworks if it happens,” Haney said. “I do think the one that really wants to fight me, and if he had it his way to make the fight, it’s Teofimo Lopez. He really wants to fight me. The other guys (Garcia and Davis), I don’t think they really have the urgency to fight me. I do see Teo fighting me eventually. I think he will. I hope he will.”
Lopez has said repeatedly since his big win over Lomachenko that he would like to fight Haney, if for no other reason to end any confusion over who is the real WBC lightweight champion. Haney’s holds the title while Lopez has the organization’s “franchise” title (in addition to the IBF, WBO and WBA titles).
Most of the confusion and debate was fostered by Top Rank and ESPN promoting Lomachenko-Lopez as being for the undisputed championship – all four major belts -- even though the WBC world title was not at stake.
“That’s Top Rank building that narrative and trying to make people believe that (Lomachenko-Lopez was an undisputed title fight). I think ESPN also,” Haney said. “But I think it comes from Top Rank selling it to ESPN that (Lomachenko-Lopez was) an undisputed fight and it’s this and that. But if you look on the ESPN website (at the champions list page) I’m the WBC world champion on there, so it is what it is. They can say what they want. I get paid like I’m the world champion. I have two mandatories (per rules for a WBC champion claiming a vacant title) and in reality I’m the (WBC) world champ. The people and the fans know who the WBC champion is. If you don’t you’re just a casual boxing fan and you don’t understand.”
Haney has the solution to any such debate. Yes, he wants to fight Garcia next but he also very much wants to face Lopez.
“If there’s so much confusion and they (Lopez’s camp) hate the confusion and they don’t want to be called franchise (champion) and they want to be undisputed why don’t we just fight and get it out of the way,” Haney said. “It won’t be no more confusion after that. It’s one fight. (Lopez) can fight me and we can iron it out and see who’s the real undisputed world champion.”
Dan Rafael was ESPN.com's senior boxing writer for fifteen years, and covered the sport for five years at USA Today. He was the 2013 BWAA Nat Fleischer Award winner for excellence in boxing journalism.