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Haney UD12 Linares: Can Devin defeat the elite at Lightweight?

Karray Bradshaw Updated
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On Saturday night, May 29, Devin "The Dream" Haney (26-0, 15 KO's) successfully defended his WBC Lightweight strap against former three division world titlist Jorge "El Nino de Oro" Linares (47-6, 29 KO's) in front of a COVID capacity crowd at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada.
 
The three judges at ringside scored the contest 116-112, 116-112 and 115-113, all in favor of the WBC Lightweight champion.
 
For two-thirds of the scheduled twelve round affair, "The Dream" looked razor sharp in the ring, pitching a virtual shut-out for eight dominate rounds of one-sided action.  Devin landed 161 of 473 total punches thrown for an accurate 34% connect rate, while containing the customarily offensive minded Linares to a meager 69 of 414 total shots landed, for a dismal 16% connect rate.
 
How did Haney shutdown an offensively potent fighter like Jorge during the first two-thirds of the fight?
 
He did what Haney does best.  The reigning champ worked behind his intelligent jab from mid to long range while limiting his opponent's window of opportunity to counter by throwing only one or two quick punches at a time.  With Devin's footwork, handspeed and sporadic jabs to the body and head, the pocket counter puncher couldn't anticipate the appropriate time to let his hands go.
 
Even with Linares' faster than average handspeed, the Venezuelan born puncher couldn't find many openings throughout the first eight rounds of action.
 
For some strange reason, Haney deviated from his dominant gameplan and decided to give Linares more chances to land effectively in the back third of the championship bout.
 
In the ninth and tenth stanzas, Haney elected to fight Linares in the pocket, opening up with combinations to the body and head at mid-range, giving Jorge greater opportunities to land more frequently.
 
Why?  Did he believe his 35 year old challenger was there for the taking and primed to be KO'd?  That didn't appear to be the case, for Linares had not been seriously hurt at any point leading up to the pivotal ninth and tenth rounds of action.
 
When a fighter is gifted with reflexes like Haney, it makes absolutely no sense to allow your opponent to fire at a much closer range unnecessarily because it dramatically diminishes your reaction time.  
 
That was very sporting of the confident young champion, and it almost cost him his WBC title.
 
At the closing bell of the tenth round, Linares threw a sharp combination to the head of Haney that found its mark, which sent the defending title holder staggering back to his corner.  Even though the tough, young champ insists he wasn't bothered by the hard right hand, it was obvious to everyone in attendance that he was indeed.
 
His actions in the championship rounds confirmed this sentiment.
 
In the final two rounds of the fight, Linares landed 26 of 87 punches thrown, for an increased connect percentage of 30%, while Haney hugged his way to retaining his WBC title, landing only 18 of 85 punches thrown, for a career low 21% connect rate.
 
When the final bell sounded, the crowd reacted with a mixed bag of cheers and boos.  Even though the wide betting favorite successfully defended his title, fans weren't too thrilled to see Haney hugging his way across the finish line.  
 
Did Devin make the smart choice by holding on for dear life throughout the great majority of round 11, while executing a minimal offensive effort?  Of course...but the "real bosses of boxing", the fans, didn't appreciate it, as it raises more questions about Haney's chin, toughness, conditioning, overall durability and ability to fight on the inside at the world class level.
 
Despite making post-fight claims of wanting to close the show in style and fighting in a more "fan-friendly" manner, some ringside experts believe it was out of necessity due to fatigue and conditioning.
 
Devin absolutely must learn to relax in the ring, or his lack of energy in the back half of the fight will continue to reveal itself.  Although he made strong efforts in trying to improve his strength and conditioning by working with veterans Victor Conte and Remi Korchemny, it negates those practices if you can't relax and remain calm in the ring.   
 
Nothing saps a fighter's endurance quite like anxiety or mental anguish.
 
Does Haney deserve the ciriticism from fans and experts alike?  He is after all just 22 years of age.
 
If Devin were merely a prospect on his way up the division pecking order, the great majority of the boxing community would be praising Haney's efforts this past Saturday night.  But because he is the reigning WBC champion, the criticism seems justified.
 
Yes, he dominated a former three-division champion and one of the division's most effective offensive fighters.  But he failed to score a decisive knock-out against someone who's been stopped within the distance five times...three times within the first two rounds.
 
Despite making efforts to increase his strength during camp, it's become obvious to most observers that Haney lacks world class power.
 
What does this mean moving forward?  How does he fare against the other top fighters of the Lightwieght division?
 
It creates problems against fighters with a good beard and fight changing power, like Teofimo Lopez, Ryan Garcia and Gervonta Davis.  If Haney can't earn the respect of an offensive minded puncher, it may become difficult to keep his opponents from merely "walking through the front door" and into firing range.  
 
And as we've seen throughout history from fighters in which their only defensive option was to tie their opponents up on the inside, fans and critics won't approve.  Nothing breaks the flow of action like excessive holding to make up for deficiencies on the inside.  Fans hate it, and it makes for terrible fights on TV.
 
So Haney definitely needs to improve his game both offensively and defensively at short range if he wants to remain successful at the elite level...not sure if Ben Davison is the right man for that assignment.  No offense to the intelligent young trainer, but his area of expertise seems to be safety-first, from mid to long range...not combat in close quarters.  
 
Can a fighter be successful at the elite level while executing a gameplan from mid to long range, fighting behind and educated jab and great footwork exclusively?
 
Of course...an intelligent jab is the most important punch in boxing.  It is a fighter's first line of defense while setting up his entire arsenal of punches.  And the foundation of any fighter's defense is his footwork.  Haney already excels in both areas.
  
Andre Ward and a welterweight version of Floyd Mayweather Jr. are perfect examples of this theory.  Both men were masters at controlling range with their footwork and effective jab to the body and head, without relying on one-punch knock-out power, and both retired with an undefeated record.  But the two Hall of Famers were much more proficient at controlling the action underneath than Haney seems to be at this time.
 
Against an incredibly effective inside fighter like Vasyl Lomachenko, the 22 year old title holder would be in for the fight of his young life.
 
Sky is the limit for Devin Haney, but he has to stay humble and continue to add new wrinkles to his already impressive fight game. Unfortunately for "The Dream", the learning curve is much shorter when wearing a championship title around your waist.  
 
Look for his next opponent to treat Haney with less respect than previous fighters on his resume.  We'll see how he deals with it.

box.buzz

 

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