Thursday, May 18, 2023 | 12:05 p.m.
This is the fight Devin Haney wanted four years ago, but in 2019, he was still working his way toward becoming a championship fighter.
Vasiliy Lomachenko was viewed by many as the best pound-for-pound boxer at the time, and fighting Haney didn’t interest him.
Haney now is the undisputed lightweight champion, and though not thrilled at being previously passed over — he has brought it up, oh, about 1,000 times — he is giving Lomachenko a shot. The two will meet in a 12-round match for the title Saturday at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
“I definitely feel like he should’ve fought me four years ago,” Haney said. “I would’ve at least got my shot four years ago. But Allah is a perfect planner, and now my time has finally come. It’s going to be worse than it would’ve been four years ago for him.”
Oddsmakers agree. Haney is a minus-280 favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
Haney, who is from the San Francisco Bay Area and lives in Las Vegas, is 29-0 with 15 knockouts. He holds all four championship belts, having risen to WBC champ in October 2019 after Lomachenko had his title removed.
Haney, 24, became the undisputed champion after winning a one-sided unanimous decision over George Kambosos Jr. in June 2022 in Melbourne. The two fought in Australia that October, and the result was largely the same.
The irony is Lomachenko could’ve fought Kambosos, and his manager, Egis Klimas, badly wanted him to take that fight. But Lomachenko had won two Olympic gold medals while boxing for Ukraine, and he didn’t want to stand idly by while his country was under attack by Russia.
Lomachenko told Klimas: “I’m not going. It’s not what’s on my mind right now. I can’t think about my career. I can’t think about boxing. All I can see right now is our country’s being bombed. People are getting killed. Everybody in this country needs me here.”
So Lomachenko enrolled in a territorial defense battalion for Ukraine.
“A lot of things are more important than the sport of boxing,” Top Rank CEO Bob Arum said. “One of them is patriotism, particularly when your country is in the grips of defending itself from a terrible aggressor. … I salute all the people of Ukraine, and I salute Vasiliy Lomachenko for the stand he took staying behind to defend his country rather than participate across the globe in Australia in a fight.”
It was Haney’s big break.
“I respect his decision to stay and fight for his country,” Haney said. “It allowed for me to get my shot to go to Australia, so it’s only right to give him his shot as well.”
Lomachenko, 35, is a former three-division champion, and he takes a 17-2 record with 11 KOs into this bout.
The odds are literally against him as he approaches the latter stages of his boxing career, but Saturday is a major opportunity to make a massive statement.
“I understand it’s the last chance to be undisputed,” Lomachenko said.
Also on the main card are a 10-round junior lightweight fight between two-division world champion Oscar Valdez (30-1, 23 KOs) and Adam Lopez (16-4, 6 KOs) and a 10-round lightweight bout between Raymond Muratalla (17-0, 14 KOs) and Jeremia Nakathila (23-2, 19 KOs).
The undercard features a 12-round WBO junior bantamweight title fight between Junto Nakatani (24-0, 18 KOs) and Andrew Moloney (25-2, 16 KOs). Should Moloney win, he would join his twin, Jason, as a world champion and become the first Australian brothers to hold belts at the same time. Jason Moloney is the WBO bantamweight champ.