When the DAZN network launched late last year, it did so on the backs of several established boxing superstars, most notably Canelo Alvarez, Anthony Joshua, and later on down the line, Gennady Golovkin. Yet more than most other sports, boxing is all about the future, and the question of who will be the next stars that will carry the sport when its current stars are gone.
On the DAZN corner to the boxing street, that has meant two young men, both of whom fight this weekend. One, young Californian Ryan Garcia is in tough in the co-main event Saturday night at the old StubHub Center against Philadelphian Avery Sparrow. It is expected to be a tough test for the 18-0 Garcia, who has generated a huge following for himself on social media.
And then there is Devin Haney.
Born in the Bay Area, Haney relocated to the capital of boxing, Las Vegas, when he was only six years old. The word “prodigy” gets thrown around a lot of boxing, but few of them have the kind of credibility for that label as Haney won his first Youth National Championship when he was just fourteen years old. When Haney was just sixteen years old, he became the youngest person ever to win a Youth World Championship. That same year Haney would have been a shoo-in to make the US Olympic team, but the rules were changed and Haney was then too young to attempt to make the team.
With this in mind, Haney choose not to wait for the next Olympics and made an unprecedented step of going to Tijuana, Mexico and turning pro at the age of seventeen. While some fighters, most notably former unified lightweight champion Juan Diaz have done this in the last few decades, for an African-American fighter to do this is unheard of. Haney fought nine times in 2016 and seven times in 2017, and by his nineteenth birthday, Haney was a ridiculous 18-0, with 12 knockouts.
His last four fights have seen him step up to prospect to a real contender, stopping veteran Mason Menard in nine, overcoming a headbutt to shutout Mexican veteran Juan Carlos Burgos, and then shutting out undefeated South African Xolisani Ndongeni. His last fight saw him systemically break down and beat up solid Mexican veteran Antonio Moran is his first fight as a headliner at the MGM Grand Theatre in Maryland on DAZN.
What Haney lacks in one punching power, he makes up with boxing skills, an even temperament, and hand speed, and while he lacks the power and the mouth of his fellow lightweight super prospect Teofimo Lopez, what he does share with Lopez in that “it factor.” That rare quality that it hard to define but just makes you want to watch someone when they come across their television screen.
Haney, like Lopez, is daring to be great by loudly calling out lightweight champion and pound for pound number one fighter Vasyl Lomachenko, who is coming off an excellent win over Luke Campbell last weekend in England. While the politics of boxing make this fight hard to make as Haney is signed with Matchroom Boxing and DAZN, but Haney’s promoter Eddie Hearn and Lomachenko promoter Bob Arum have shown they can work together, as they did on Loma-Campbell and the excellent fight between Jose Ramirez and Maurice Hooker a few months ago. So as it unlikely as it seems, it isn’t impossible.
So now, Haney heads to the Hulu Theatre at Madison Square Garden for the first time, performing on one of the biggest stages on all of sports. It’s hard to say how tough he is in against undefeated Zahr Abdullaev, who only has eleven pro fights but is undefeated and has a strong amateur background. The Russian started fighting ten rounders before he had ten pro fights, so that shows his handlers think highly of him. But how good he really is, we just don’t know.
But the bigger question is Abdullaev good enough to show us just how good Devin Haney is. After all, for the expectations for future stardom for Haney, this kid is only twenty years old. It could still be too much too soon for Las Vegas kid, especially if Abdullaev turns out to be much tougher than expected.
And for DAZN, its crucial they keep with the Joneses in making and promoting new stars. The Haney business is big business for DAZN and neither can fail now…