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Meet Devin Haney: DAZN’s Superstar of The Future

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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…

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Wilder v Fury II: Can ‘heart and determination’ conquer raw power?

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It’s long been one of the great debates in sport – the relationship between technical aptitude and self-belief. Are the greatest sportspeople blessed with an inherent talent that guarantees success, or is it the determination and will-to-win that drives them that extra mile? Can sheer resolve and strength of character get the better of mechanical, tried-and-tested excellence?

This is one of the main topics of conversation ahead of the highly-anticipated rematch between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury. The English fighter is the slight favourite in the latest Wilder vs Fury odds, and has been vocal recently in saying that his self-will has the power to overcome an opponent whose record of 42 wins and 41 knockouts is frightening. 

“Statistics don’t lie, he is a much bigger puncher than me, a one-punch knockout artist,” Fury said. “The thing is, I don’t believe anybody can match my heart and determination. I will put my iron will on Deontay Wilder and we will see.”

While even the most uninformed boxing fan recognises Wilder’s superior punching power over Fury, it seemed strange for the Gypsy King, normally so brash and headstrong, to make such a concession – that his opponent is a better puncher. But this is the new Fury – the considered, mature Fury, if such a thing exists. There have been no Batman costumes or karaoke performances in his news conferences ahead of this fight, instead it has been all business with the repeated assertion that he will knock Wilder out in round two. 

Perhaps Wilder’s victory over Luis Ortíz in December will have given Fury more cause for concern than he may have felt initially. While the Cuban dominated Wilder for most of the fight, the WBC heavyweight champion showed exactly why he boasts such a formidable record. After almost seven rounds of tough boxing from Ortíz, one swift right hand from the knockout king left the Cuban sprawled on the canvas. For Fury, his intention will be to dominate proceedings, to use his footwork to get Wilder moving and losing energy. But that threat of a sudden light-extinguishing blow means the Gypsy King will have no margin for losing focus. 

Wilder vs Fury is the ultimate showcase of technical excellence against spirited mentality. Wilder has honed a gift for punching, the like of which boxing has never seen. There is no answer to the irresistible brutality of Wilder’s swing and hit – a crunching cannonball of a right hand that shatters all before it. 

Fury’s hope lies in his belief in his personal journey rather than the physical prowess he embodies. He believes that defeating Wilder is the inevitable next step on his voyage from the depths of depression and self-loathing to a glorious return to boxing’s title-winners. The determination that has driven his recovery continues to give him the belief that he will beat every opponent before him, and Wilder is simply the next man in the way.

On its own you would say that such determination would not be enough against an opponent of Wilder’s class, but such a conclusion would be ignoring the exemplary technical qualities Fury himself possesses. He is as nimble a heavyweight boxer as any in history, light on his feet, able to switch between stances at the drop of the hat, and while his punching power might not be on the same level as Wilder, it has been enough to land him 20 career knockouts. 

On February 22nd we will find out if Wilder is simply a step too far for Fury’s remarkable recovery to his former champion status. Will raw power overcome the singular focus and graft that have defined the Englishman’s return to contention? For those who have risen as Fury has, it takes a lot to knock them down again. 

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Andrade Coasts, Paul Shines, and Titles change hands in Miami

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DAZN hosted a rare Thursday Night card in a makeshift arena at the Gardens in Miami Beach, as the gang at Matchroom Sports hoped to capitalize on thousands of people coming into town for this Sunday’s Super Bowl LIV between the Chiefs and the 49ers.

Most of the hype surrounded the “battle” between YouTubers Jake Paul of the United States and England’s AnEsonGib, and it turned out to be a showcase for the bigger and longer Paul, who painted Gib with repeated left jabs which set up the big right hands that dropped Gib three times in the first round and led referee Chris Young to stop the fight just 2:18 into the first round. It was the pro debut for both rivals, and whatever you want to say about it, the Sugar Shane Mosely trained Paul looked good.

The “main event” saw Demetrious Andrade drop Irishman Luke Keeler twice in the first two rounds and then coast for six rounds before finally stepping on the gas and blasting Keeler with repeated big shots in the ninth, forcing veteran referee Telis Assimenios to stop the fight at 2:59 of Round 9. It was Andrade’s third defense of his title and just another blowout of a fighter that it was below his talent level. It should have lasted three rounds. Instead, the game Irishman hit Andrade quite a bit and allowed to survive till the late rounds. Andrade called out the almost equally frustrating Billie Joe Saunders, the WBO 168 titleholder. They deserve each other.

But before the fluff at the end, boxing fans were treated two quality title fights. The main card of the show opened with an excellent technical battle that saw 2016 Olympic Bronze Medalist Murodjon Akhmadaliev lift the WBA/IBF junior featherweight (122 pounds) from reigning champion Danny Roman by twelve round split decision in just his eighth professional fight.

The fight was very close from round one, as Akhmadaliev came out swinging with big left hands from the southpaw positions. The super technical Roman (27-3-1,10 KOs), fighting out of Los Angeles, attacked the body from Round One and looked to time the young Uzbek with good counter punches. The early rounds were good for Roman, who was more accurate and faster with his punches. Akhmadaliev came back in rounds five and six, only for Roman to crank up his pace in rounds seven and eight.

Many thought the late rounds would belong to the more experienced pro Roman, but Akhmadaliev (8-0, 7 KOs) turned that theory on his head, digging down in the late rounds, continuing throwing hard lefts to the head and body. Throughout the fight, the Uzbek commonly referred to as MJ closed rounds strong, and this was especially in the case in these late rounds. Roman did his best to come back with a strong Round 12 and both men let their hands go in the last twenty-seconds, landing some of their best punches of the fight.

In the end, one judge had it 115-113 for Roman, but the other two had it 115-113 for Akhmadaliev, giving the Uzbek the title in a fight that could have gone either way. Fightbooth actually had it a draw, 114-114. With so many close rounds, a rematch makes sense for both, especially in California, where both men are based. Much was made of how Danny Roman did not have to take this fight against such a ballyhooed prospect, but chose to be a great champion. The result was an excellent fight and a rivalry that we can hope is not over.

The second main card bout saw Joseph Diaz Jr, a 2012 Olympian from the United States, notch a dominant performance to lift the IBF junior lightweight (130 pound) title from Philadelphia’s Tevin Farmer in the culmination of a bitter rivalry between the two men that goes back to last May, when the two had a confrontation at the Canelo Alvarez-Daniel Jacobs fight in Las Vegas.

Diaz was aggressive from Round One, pushing Farmer on the inside and unloading with loads of punches. The second round saw the fighters clash heads, leaving Diaz with a GNARLY cut over his left eyelid, which look to put the fight in jeopardy. Yet Diaz stuck to his task, staying on Farmer and being the busier and more accurate fighter.

Farmer is normally one of the most defensively elusive fighters you will ever see, but in this fight, he chose to languish on the inside, allowing Diaz to have his way on the inside and hit him pretty much as he choose. Farmer claimed to hurt his right hand in the first round, and many believe the same clash of heads that opened the big cut on Diaz’ eye compromised Farmer. The announce team, especially Sergio Mora, made all the excuses for Farmer, but whatever the reason, Farmer fought the wrong fight against Diaz.

Diaz built a big lead with his accurate flurries of punches and somehow, his cut-man managed to keep that eye closed. Farmer may have stolen some late rounds but at the end of the result was clear. The scorecards were 117-111 and 115-113, twice, all of Joseph Diaz Jr. Those last two were wayyy too close.

The win is the culmination of a long journey for Diaz (31-1, 15 KOs), who has been built throughout his career by Golden Boy Promotions for this moment. He was thoroughly outclassed in his first title fight two years ago by Gary Russell Jr and couldn’t make weight for his second title opportunity a few months later. But after a mental health break and some changes, Diaz is finally a world champion. It was a sad end of a title reign for Farmer (30-5-1, 6 KOs), who defended his belt four times in fourteen months and saw an eight year unbeaten streak come to an end.

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Rosario shocks Williams, Seizes titles in Philly

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On a night where the UFC and Conor McGregor took center stage in the combat sports world, Jeison Rosario pulled off an absolute shocker in Philadelphia.

The twenty-four-year-old junior middleweight from the Dominican Republican was seen as a pretty good prospect turned fringe contender and was on a modest six fight winning streak against fairly good opposition. But he was supposed to be simply an opponent for WBA/IBF junior middleweight champion Julian “J-Rock” Williams, who seized the titles from previously undefeated champ Jarrett Hurd last year and was making his first title defense in his hometown of Philadelphia. Williams supposed to beat Rosario and move onto a big fight later this year, either a rematch against Hurd or a unification fight with WBC 154 pound champ Jermell Charlo.

But Rosario upset that apple card last night at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia, knocking out Williams in the fifth round of their title fight on a Premier Boxing Champions show broadcasted on big Fox. The +800 underdog, who looked considerably bigger than the reigning champion, showed himself to be an excellent puncher, throwing to both the head and body, and turned one of boxing’s deepest divisions on its head.

Williams came out strong in the first, boxing behind his jab and looking to land his trademark right hand. Rosario responded by upping the pressure in the second and started to get to Williams body. Then with twenty-five seconds left in the round, Rosario changed the fight with a right hand that stopped Williams in his tracks, and seconds later, the champion pawed his eye, revealing the blood that the punch had drawn, and Rosario jumped on him, landing several combinations before the bell.

The Philadelphia fighter did his best to right the ship in the third round, including landing several crunching right hands in the last minute, but Rosario was making it his fight in the fourth round, forcing power punching exchanges and taking away Williams’ excellent jab. Even though Williams was landing slightly more punches, it was clear Rosario had seized the tone of the fight.

The Dominican seized much more in the fifth as a minute into the round, he hurt Williams with a series of monster left hooks. Williams backed into the ropes and Rosario unleashed a two fisted attack that had Williams holding for dear life and seemingly looking for a double leg, sending him slipping to the canvas. Williams rose from his feet, and Rosario was right on him, and a killer right uppercut followed by a big left hook led referee Benji Estevez to stop the fight at 1:37 of Round 5.

The Philly crowd responded with anger, throwing trash into the ring and a riot seemed to be brewing for a moment before order was restored. Philly may be the town of upsets, but they do not like to see their guys lose.

Williams stated after the fight that he had a rematch clause and given how exciting this fight was there is no reason not to have it. As for Rosario, who moved to 20-1-1 and scored his fourteenth knockout, he is now The Man in one of boxing’s better divisions right now, and with size and power, he is a real forced to be reckoned with.

Philadelphia be damned.

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