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Fight Report: Haney vs Lomachenko

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In virtually any other professional sport, a highly competitive contest featuring performances of astonishing skill and courage would be a good thing, translating into loads of positive attention and publicity, with fans and pundits alike celebrating what they had witnessed. But this is professional prizefighting in the 21st century. And no other sport knows how to turn a positive into a negative like boxing.

Last night Devin Haney and Vasiliy Lomachenko put on an exhibition of elite-level fisticuffs, the kind we rarely see, with both boxers showing off loads of talent and finesse and ring IQ. These were two master craftsmen, both having a good night, both on their A-game, both rising to the occasion. After twelve rounds, very little was decided. And almost before the official decision was announced, the trolls and neg-heads and keyboard warriors were drowning out the rest of us as the bitching began.

Haney vs Lomachenko

Let’s be crystal clear from the outset: the final verdict was not an injustice. Devin Haney won by unanimous decision and while we can lament that one judge turned in a rather suspect card, the other two saw it the same way everyone else did: a tight, competitive battle that, conceivably, could have gone either way, or been ruled a draw. Anyone who thinks one or the other fighter should be the winner with room to spare did not understand what they were watching last night. And the fact is if Lomachenko had been announced the victor by identical scores, there would be just as many people questioning the outcome as there are now.

However, a key factor in how this match is being perceived at the moment involves sentiment and what we might call “The Underdog Element.” Vasiliy Lomachenko is 35-years-old and, truth be told, belongs in the featherweight division. Haney is 24 and it’s not a stretch to imagine him some day competing at middleweight. Indeed, the size differential between the two looked almost comical at times. No doubt many fans came to this match-up with the old maxim “a good big man beats a good little man” in their head while keeping their expectations modest. So who could blame them if they got caught up in Lomachenko’s stirring rally in the latter rounds?

No doubt there was something heroic in the brave Ukrainian’s effort. After all, it was he, not Haney, who imbued the battle with genuine gravitas and excitement when he sucked it up and let his hands go to take both the tenth and eleventh rounds. This meant the fight was still up for grabs as the bell rang for the final three minutes. It was reminiscent of when Roberto Duran challenged Marvelous Marvin Hagler for the middleweight crown back in 1983. Duran was clearly at a size and strength disadvantage, but he switched to a higher gear in the twelfth and thirteenth rounds, bringing the fans to their feet as he landed a series of clean right hands on the bigger man. But, like Lomachenko, he didn’t have quite enough gas in his tank to impose himself with authority at the end.

But no matter how you scored that final round last night, here is the real deciding factor in Haney vs Lomachenko: not the later rounds, but the early ones, most of which were almost too close to call. Every highly competitive fight has “swing rounds,” that is, rounds for which an argument could be made for either boxer, but the early going of Haney vs Lomachenko was so competitive, with exchanges so brisk they were hard to follow, that almost all of them fall into that category. There was no denying the fact Haney was landing the harder blows, most of them to the body, but at the same time it was often Lomachenko coming forward and initiating exchanges while connecting with eye-catching shots upstairs.

Twelve rounds has been the standard distance for championship matches for more than three decades now, but every once in a while we get a bout like Haney vs Lomachenko, a clash that makes the die-hards pine for the fifteen round distance. What fight fan wouldn’t love to have had three more rounds of the high-quality stuff “Hi-Tech” and “The Dream” were giving us last night? Who would bet against either one somehow finding a way to kick the drama up to a higher notch if they had three more rounds to work with?

Instead, to resort to another “Four Kings” comparison, much like Marvelous Marvin Hagler vs Sugar Ray Leonard, we’re left with something less than wholly satisfying or conclusive, a twelve round contest spawning as many questions as it answered. And one that’s going to be argued about for a long time to come. That said, there’s no denying the final outcome was fair: a solid case can be made that Devin Haney won seven of twelve rounds last night. But there’s also no doubt that Lomachenko, despite losing, gave us one of the best performances of his career. And if just one or two of those “swing rounds” slide into the other column, just like that we have a different result.

An elated Haney celebrates his win.

So, in the final analysis, there’s really only one thing to do: ignore the social media outrage, stop bitching, and pay tribute to both fighters. Boxing, a sport undeniably in decline, doesn’t have that many occasions to celebrate in recent years, but last night should be one of them. Haney vs Lomachenko was an exciting, at times even exhilarating, prizefight between two of the best in the game. The simple truth remains, it doesn’t get much better than that.          –Neil Crane  

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