Boxing’s best fighters, the truly elite ones, are like shooting stars. Rarely glimpsed, savoured by millions and surrounded by smaller stars who don’t shine as brightly or endure as completely, even though they are ever-present. The shooting star is prized for its scarcity as much as for the unique and dazzling traits that make it different from its surroundings.
But boxing’s big boys didn’t used to be as rare as space phenomena. They used to fight all the time. Mike Tyson famously kicked off his epic career by going 28-0 and winning the WBC heavyweight title within two years of his debut. Muhammad Ali had four fights in 1972 and another six in 1972 as he pursued his old heavyweight crown. Even more recently, Oscar De La Hoya’s peak included a packed 1997 where he boxed on five occasions.
But somewhere along the way, boxing’s best fighters realised they only had to turn up every so often. The ever-influential Floyd Mayweather retired in 2017, but hadn’t had three fights in a calendar year since 2005. Current WBC heavyweight king Tyson Fury boxed twice last year and just once each in 2020 and 2021. Today’s top stars get paid enough per-fight to keep their appearances to a minimum.
This is why undisputed lightweight champion Devin Haney is such a breath of fresh air. ‘The Dream’ will fight this weekend for the third time in eleven months. Not only that, but he faces an elite foe in doing so. Vasiliy Lomachenko is one of the pound-for-pound stars of the post-Mayweather era of boxing. While there is an argument to be made that he is on the slide now at 35, try telling that to the three opponents in a row he has just defeated. Even past his best, Lomachenko is the best opponent Haney has fought so far.
But that’s not to say Haney has ducked any challenges. In fact he is on quite the run of facing top challengers. Joseph Diaz Jr, Jorge Linares, Yuriorkis Gamboa and George Kambosos Jr are a murderer’s row of top lightweights. The fact he got through those five fights in less than two years is atypical in the modern sport.
Haney is no stranger to a packed schedule. His 2020 was as quiet as most people’s, featuring just one fight. But ‘The Dream’ managed four fights in 2019 and a whopping seven in 2017, including two in January. While his 29 fights by the age of 24 isn’t Tyson-levels of busy, it is atypical when compared to his peers.
Long may it continue in all honesty. Haney has managed to move quickly from prospect to champion to undisputed champion and pound-for-pound candidate. The reason for his rapid rise has been two-fold. His quality of opposition and the frequency of his fights. It’s a lost art. Just this week we saw heavyweight prospect Frazer Clarke allegedly pulled from the purse bids for a British heavyweight title fight Fabio Wardley by his team. In a landscape where boxers and their promoters are shunning the big fights, Haney is a breath of fresh air.
Now could well be the time to climb aboard the Haney bandwagon. His wins over Kambosos made him an undisputed champion and a bigger name but beating a future Hall of Famer in Lomachenko will make him a superstar. Hopefully if he is victorious he remains active and maintains his knack for making big fights. With potential rivals like Shakur Stevenson and Gervonta Davis circling, there is no shortage of huge bouts out there for him.