A young, rising star clashes with one of the greats of the previous generation on Saturday when Devin Haney defends his status as the undisputed lightweight champion against former unified champion Vasiliy Lomachenko. Years in the making, the fight is a classic crossroads that represents different things for both men.
For Lomachenko, who has held world titles in three different weight classes since turning pro after a substantial amateur career, the fight is his first – and likely only – chance to achieve his dream of becoming undisputed champion. At 35 years old and fighting two weight classes above what would be considered his ideal weight, the clock is ticking towards the end of his career.
Haney, meanwhile, has emerged from a chaotic lightweight mix as the man with all four world championships. But he did so without defeating any of the men seen as his peers at the top of the division. The fight with Lomachenko is one opportunity for Haney to further legitimize his status and continue to climb boxing’s pound-for-pound rankings.
Lomachenko has never been hesitant to seek big challenges. He fought for a world title in just his second career fight and won the WBO featherweight title in his third. After three defenses, Lomachenko moved up a division and once again won gold. In that stretch, Lomachenko not only showcased his brilliant technical skills but also began stopping opponents, scoring eight straight finishes in a run that stretched to his first fight at lightweight, where he stopped Jorge Linares to win the WBA world title.
Can’t get enough boxing and MMA? Get the latest in the world of combat sports from two of the best in the business. Subscribe to Morning Kombat with Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell for the best analysis and in-depth news.
Three fights after the win over Linares, Lomachenko had added the WBO and WBC titles to his collection and was aiming to become the undisputed champion against then-IBF champion Teofimo Lopez. Lomachenko came up short that night in October 2020, giving away too many early rounds for a late rally to compensate and suffering a unanimous decision loss.
While Lomachenko struggled to go uncontested, Haney held the WBC world title in a situation that was as confusing as it sounds.
Haney won the WBC interim lightweight title in September 2019 and became a mandatory challenger for Lomachenko, who then held the WBC world title. A month later, Lomachenko accepted the WBC’s offer to be elevated to “franchise champion”, which also resulted in Haney being promoted to world champion.
“I’ve been calling for this fight for four years. But the time has finally come,” Haney said this week. “I take my hat off to him. I respect everything that he’s done. I respect his decision to stay and defend his country. It gave me the chance to go to Australia, so it was only right that I gave him the chance as well.”
Haney had argued that Lomachenko ducked with him before that move and that Lomachenko’s acceptance of the franchise designation, which carries no obligations to make mandatory defenses, only reinforced Haney’s feelings.
Despite Haney being the WBC world champion and the franchise championship being “non-transferable” under the WBC’s own rules, the sanctioning body then transferred the franchise tag to Lopez after he defeated Lomachenko, claiming that it effectively made Lopez the undisputed champion.
“He talks about the past, but it’s hard to say things about the past,” Lomachenko said. “You can’t change it. Even if you talk about it, you can’t change it. Only God can change it.”
Haney was eventually able to sort things out in the ring, winning all the belts from George Kambosos Jr. in June 2022 following Kamboso’s shocking upset of Lopez. There was no longer any dispute about the status of undisputed champion, Haney was the king of the mountain.
Haney, still reeling from his feelings about Lomachenko avoiding him years ago, has spent much of the fight claiming his goal is not just to defeat Lomachenko, but to force his rival into retirement.
“I want to beat him bad. I want to retire him,” Haney said on an episode of Top Rank’s Blood Sweat & Tears. “Lomachenko has never been an underdog, this is the first time. This time he’s fighting a bigger guy, a strong guy, faster guy, younger guy.
“All the odds are stacked against him and on May 20th I’m going to show the world why. Whatever he brings on fight night it’s not going to be enough, I’m going to make him look average, I’m going to make him look ordinary. I’ll shame him and he won’t be the same.”
The undercard has a title fight available as a pair of super flyweights. Junto Nakatani and Andrew Moloney face off for the title vacated by Kazuto Ioka. Nakatani, 25, is undefeated at 24-0 so far in his career with 18 knockouts. He is coming off his toughest test yet against Francisco Rodriguez Jr. in November when he took home a unanimous decision. Moloney, meanwhile, has continued to impress in Australia since his trilogy with Joshua Franco three years ago. Moloney has won four in a row as he returns to title level.
Also, former unified super featherweight champion Oscar Valdez is back in his lightweight debut as he takes on Adam Lopez. Valdez is coming off his first career loss as Shakur Stevenson ended his long title run at 130 pounds. Now he’s ready to start anew against an opponent he scored a TKO against in 2019.
“I’m excited because it’s been a year since my last fight. I’m coming off a loss, so I’m motivated. It doesn’t matter if you lose. What matters is how you come back. I’m going to come back and make a statement.”
Lopez, meanwhile, has been up and down since their first meeting in 2019, going 2-2 with 1 no contest.
“I’m surprised this rematch is happening. Oscar said he was going to rematch me after our first match,” Lopez said. “But it never happened. We went our separate ways. But it’s coming back around. I think it’s great that it’s happening on this card. It’s a huge fight. People wanted to see it. I’m excited about it .”
Let’s take a closer look at the rest of the undercard with the latest odds from Caesars Sportsbook before moving on to a prediction and picking the main event.
Haney vs. Lomachenko fight card, odds
Devin Haney (c) -280
Vasiliy Lomachenko +230
Undisputed lightweight title
Junto Nakatani -440
Andrew Moloney +340
Vacant WBO super flyweight title
Raymond Muratalla -220
Jeremiah Nakathila +180
Date:May 20 |Start time:10:00 PM ET (Main Card)
Place:MGM Grand Garden Arena – Las Vegas, Nevada
TV channel:ESPN+ PPV ($59.99)
Lomachenko and Haney are both wonderful technicians, talented and with high boxing IQ. Unfortunately for Lomachenko, he is no longer in his prime, nor is he a natural lightweight. Haney will be much bigger on fight night and that could be the deciding factor, even if Lomachenko’s age is not taken into account.
Haney is a fighter who lives and dies by the punch. With a nearly six-inch reach advantage, he should be able to use that weapon very effectively against Lomachenko. Lomachenko has to find a way past the jab and to the inside to get any work done, and Haney is very good at suffocating on the inside and forcing restarts back to a distance where he can pick up right away with his jab.
Lomachenko’s worst habit is his tendency to start fights very slowly. We always hear about how he “downloads information” in the early rounds, but doing that against Lopez cost him the fight and it almost cost him again in his last outing, a surprisingly narrow decision win over Jamaine Ortiz. He simply cannot afford to give away four, three or even two rounds to Haney without even trying to win the frame. Haney is unlikely to tone down down the stretch and let Lomachenko run away with the second half of the fight.
Haney was badly hurt late by Linares in the 10th round, but it’s hard to pick Lomachenko with hopes he can do the same when age, size and a likely inability to shed his slow-start style are also at play. Lomachenko should never be counted out against anyone but Haney is just a bad style for Lomachenko, especially at this point in both men’s careers. Pick: Devin Haney via UD