For nine laps, Devin Haney showcased his phenomenal technical prowess against astute veteran Jorge Linares and looked destined for another successful, but not necessarily spectacular, victory. However, a short right hand to close the tenth round injured Haney and fans at Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas diverted their support from the 22-year-old fighter.
For the first time, Haney faced something he hadn’t encountered in his 25-fight career: adversity. Not only from his opponent, but from the fans in attendance who taunted him as he cleverly held Linares as he rocked the cobwebs from the previous round.
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Despite the brief stint in adversity, Haney won a unanimous decision and retained his WBC lightweight title. While some may have criticized his performance and inability to fend off an opponent who had only lost by knockout until then, Haney gained valuable experience necessary for a fighter of his caliber to advance to the next step in his career.
Fans might not have been treated to a spectacular knockout from the young fighter who calls Las Vegas his home, but what Haney gained in that short streak by being injured, taking instructions from his corner while being buzzed about. and applying them to the next round is what separates the champions from the challengers.
These are the moments that undefeated young fighters need in their careers to determine whether or not they have the courage to succeed in the long run. It’s easy to knock down a series of opponents. But it’s only when a fighter gets a good punch in the mouth and is forced to react that we know whether or not he’s going to be there long term or just a flash in the pan.
It is a baptism of fire. Some survive, many don’t.
Ryan Garcia recently had his moment when he was dropped by Luke Campbell in the second round of their January clash that we realized he was made of tougher stuff. The 22-year-old lifted off the canvas, rebounded and stopped Campbell with a brutal blow to the body in the 7th round to pass his toughest test. Haney may not have touched the canvas, but his wobbly return to his corner told a story that would end either in his survival or in an embarrassing collapse. With trainer Ben Davison in his ear, Haney put on the smile that suggested he was injured but didn’t want to show it while digesting his cornermen’s instructions.
He applied them, survived the last six minutes, and lived to fight another day.
History tells us that not all fighters are able to survive these times and it is something that haunts them for the rest of their careers. Mike Tyson had no idea when Buster Douglass let him go in the 10th round of their infamous 1990 clash. At this point, he torched the opposition and rarely faced anything close to adversity. By the time he tasted the web he had no idea how to stand up and the veil of invincibility was broken.
Juan Manuel Lopez, Amir Khan, Victor Ortiz, Tommy Morrison, Zab Judah, Jeff Lacy and even Linares are just a few boxers who were thought to be the next big thing but fell apart when the going got tough. In order for Haney to reach the next level of greatness, he had to find out how he would react when injured in a fight.
Haney did not collapse. In fact, Haney became a sponge after the fight and went so far as to ask Linares about his boxing prowess. Rather than showing his ego, Haney humbly asked how to improve himself and accepted criticism of his work after his opponent’s jab.
As Haney moves on to bigger and better fights that could potentially include Garcia, unified champion Teofimo Lopez and Gervonta Davis, this valuable lesson will go beyond pleasing fans with a rout. He needed adversity to learn more about himself. Those teachable moments against seasoned veterans are certainly not over, but the fact that he pulled off his debut proves that Haney is much more than a young star who will crumble under pressure.
And the pressure breaks pipes or makes diamonds. So far, Haney looks set to become a diamond.