Breakdown: Devin Haney vs Vasiliy Lomachenko undisputed championship preview, predictions, start time tonight

Devin Haney and Vasiliy Lomachenko have circled each other for years, and now we finally see them fight each other in a clash between generations.

By: Lukasz Fenrych | 3 weeks ago
Breakdown: Devin Haney vs Vasiliy Lomachenko undisputed championship preview, predictions, start time tonight

This week in the boxing, we see a clash of generations, as the great Vasiliy Lomachenko makes probably one last tilt at all the titles, taking on young undisputed champion Devin Haney in Vegas. They’re both here with something to prove: Haney has all the belts, an incredible achievement at 24, but they came to him in an odd, roundabout way and there are still questions about how he’ll fare against an elite opponent.

Lomachenko has a bit of a chip on his shoulder; he had the chance to win all of these belts before, but fell short. The claim since has been that he was carrying an injury in that fight, one he’s since had surgery on: he’ll want to prove this weekend that that wasn’t just an excuse, and that he really is one of the greats of the outgoing generation of boxers.

The fight will be available on ESPN PPV, with the paid portion of the card starting at 10pm ET. The prelim portions of the card start at 6PM ET on ESPN+ before joining ESPN proper at 8PM: see the undercard section below on why that might be worth tuning in for.

See our full guide on how to watch Haney vs Lomachenko here.

The road to this fight has been long and winding: they have been pencilled in to face each other more than once, only to see it fail to materialise for one reason or another. In the meantime, they’ve collected belts, which by their own winding route have now all ended up with Haney: so here we are, for all the marbles. 

The Preview: How did Haney and Lomachenko Get Here?

Lomachenko (17-2-0, 11 KOs) was of course a world champion long before lightweight: one of the greatest amateur boxers ever, he fought for a world title in his second fight as a pro and (after a controversial loss) won one in the third. That was at 125lbs (featherweight), and he subsequently moved up to 130lbs and won a belt there before stepping up to where he is now, 135lbs, in an effort to unify titles. He started well, winning 3 belts in his first four fights in the division. Then plans, injuries, and bullshit boxing politics came into play. 

The last part came first: the third belt he won was the WBC title. His mandatory challenger for it? One Devin Haney, who bafflingly won the ‘interim’ belt a month after Lomachenko won the real won. It would be too harsh to call it a duck, but at that stage, Lomachenko had other plans, so he was, ahem, ‘elevated’ to franchise champion. That’s a bullshit concept the WBC uses to keep their belt in play for the most lucrative fighters, but it meant Haney was elevated to ‘full’ champion without having fought for it, bringing him the nickname of ‘email champion’, that he’s been trying to shake since.

For Lomachenko’s part, his plans fell apart anyway, and he spent over a year out with injury, dropping that ‘franchise’ status (which would have made him mandatory challenger to Haney whenever he wanted) as a result. When he returned, he took two of his belts over to another young champion, Teforimo Lopez… and lost. That left Lopez with three of the belts in the division. Unfortunately for him, he completely failed to take that momentum on, crashing to a shock defeat against until-then unfancied Australian George Kambosos, leaving him with those three belts. 

Haney (29-0-0, 15 KOs), in the meantime, trucked along, fighting whoever he could get in the ring and determined to beat that ‘email champion’ narrative. In early 2022, Kambosos arranged to fight Lomachenko for those three belts. However, a week after they signed to fight, Russia invaded Lomachenko’s home country of Ukraine: Loma immediately went home to fight in the initial wave of defence, leaving Kambosos needing an opponent.

Haney saw his chance. Such was his determination to make the fight that he left his promoter – Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom, on DAZN- to better facilitate it, and agreed to every stipulation Kambosos’ team made. He gave up home turf, travelling to Australia, took the smaller share of the purse, and agreed to an immediate rematch if he won (also in Australia). He did all this, comfortable in the belief that he was much better than the Australian and would come away with all four belts. That proved true, with Haney beating Kambosos very easily twice last year. That left him with those belts, and a target on his back for the returning Lomachenko. 

And that’s where we are now. The promotional and sanctioning body bullshit is past, and nearly four years after the first time they appeared on each others’ radar, here they are. 

Haney vs Lomachenko: The Breakdown

The first big deciding factor in the fight may well be Haney’s jab. Lomachenko is a magical close-range boxer, but we have seen him on occasion frustrated if an opponent can throw up a few roadblocks to him closing range. Most notably, in his loss against Lopez, he saw Teofimo combine a strong jab with one or two follow-up intercepting shots that made closing range dangerous, while refusing to step in too close himself. It took most of the fight for Loma to find routes past that simple combination.

 Haney doesn’t have Lopez’ power, and he’s likely to be more generally on the back foot than Lopez – who didn’t close range but did consistently push Lomachenko back. But he is a more skillful defensive boxer, and probably more able to simply disengage if Lomachenko does manage to make inroads.

Another fight that brings up potential concerns for the Ukranian is his win over the Cuban great, Rigondeaux. That might seem odd to say, given he won that fight very comfortably, taking no damage whatsoever. However, despite the ease with which he was winning, we did see him get visibly frustrated, more than once, about how hard he had to work to land anything on the much smaller man. Even Haney won’t be that negative- Rigondeaux threw almost nothing of his own- but he is a lot bigger than Loma where Rigo was a lot smaller. If Lomachenko becomes as irritated against a man he can’t just reach past the jab of, it could be a bad sign.

There’s another factor to take from that fight too, and that’s how Lomachenko deals with clinches. Despite being incredibly good in close, he doesn’t much like actually clinching up (it restricts his footwork too much), and his response to it has sometimes been pretty crude. The Rigondeaux fight is a good example – when he held on, Lomachenko would simply wrench him around, trying to quite literally throw him off. That’s something he’s done against multiple opponents. We can’t be sure, but the shoulder injury he needed surgery for after the Lopez fight is the kind of thing potentially created or exacerbated by that sort of movement.

He has worked on that, becoming more thoughtful and skill-based about how he goes about freeing himself, but those skills will be tested greatly against Haney, who is a dedicated holder when he feels the need and by far the biggest man Lomachenko will have needed to use those skills against. Put simply, he may need to avoid the clinch entirely rather than relying on fighting his way free, and if he can do that or not is open to question. 

All that said, there are plenty of reasons for Lomachenko to feel positive too. At the end of the day, Haney has never faced anyone close to this skilled- whereas the reverse isn’t true. So there will be questions asked of him. 

Some of them will be at the basic, broad level. Just a jab isn’t going to be enough- can Haney throw the intercepting shots behind it with the right timing and placement to discourage Lomachenko? Will his footwork and range management be sharp enough to keep up with a fighter who closes range far, far faster than Kambosos or Diaz ever could? Those are unanswered questions, and a lot will hinge on how that turns out.

There is another factor that could feature. It’s ultimately a small part of Haney’s game, and it could turn out that it never ends up really bothering him (if he passes this test, he should be good to go for the foreseeable future, at least if he stays at this weight). It goes like this: while Haney’s overall form and technique are really, really good, there is a slight disconnect between what his upper body is doing, and how his feet are lining up.

This isn’t easy to spot, or exploit. He isn’t like boxers like Caleb Plant or Michael Conlan, whose head movement is good for two or three evasive moves, after which they get very obviously off-balance. Broadly speaking, he knows what he should be doing to keep himself lined up, and stay balanced, poised to do what he needs. And yet, there is just a slight hitch in those movements.

You can see it when he throws. Haney is not a powerful puncher, and that comes in part because even when he’s trying to sit on his punches, that power isn’t being generated through his feet, from the floor. In the rematch against Kambosos, he repeatedly used a looping, overhand right. It looked like a big power shot, lots of effort put in, but it never really hurt the Australian.

Looking closer, you can see that the movement of his foot follows the arc of the punch, rather than moving with it to help generate it. It seems unlikely that that specific punch will be on show much against Loma- it also put Haney off-balance, and he should be too smart to be that vulnerable against an opponent like Lomachenko- but the overall issue is there in most of his punches.

It comes up defensively too. Haney is a solid defensive technician, he rarely gets hit. When he does, though, he has shown a tendency to seem more rocked by some punches than it seems like he should. Jorge Linares and JoJo Diaz, although defeated comfortably, both got visible reactions out of him with the rare shots they did land. And it’s true that some boxers just take shots less well than others, but the technical issue here feeds into this.

Simply put, it’s the same thing as with the power: most fighters with really good chins have them in part because even if they take a shot flush, they can to some extent move with it and dispel that force throughout their whole body. A good boxing stance is built lin large part to cover this possibility from as many angles as possible. Haney knows he should be doing this, but too often a punch will either snap his head back clean, or more often stagger him even though it doesn’t seem like it really hurt.

That last happens because the punch has come across the line he wants to move with punches, rather than along. His head moves, but his feet aren’t placed to adjust to the movement, so he staggers, or can’t take the shot as well as he could. This happens more often in MMA, simply because MMA fighters have to consider kicks and takedowns so they can’t just focus on how to take punches. In a high-level defensive technician in boxing, though, it’s not a common problem.

Haney has covered it up well enough so far, but neither Linares nor Diaz are particularly good movers. Lomachenko on the other hand is one of the best we’ve seen in decades, and he’ll be constantly looking to make his sharp little circling steps to draw Haney out of his shape. Even if he doesn’t hurt him – there’s a big size difference here- that may draw bigger errors and stumbles out of Haney than we’re used to seeing. 

So that may be what the fight comes down to. Lomachenko will certainly be the initiator: he’ll be trying to impose his style, use his movement. Haney will be the stifler- trying to impede that movement any way he can. Who is more successful is what the outcome will come down to.

What’s on the undercard?

There is one fight of real note on the undercard, but it’s one well worth tuning in for: rising Japanese star Junto Nakatani, previously a WBO flyweight champion, makes a play for the same belt in the superfly division, against Australian Andrew Moloney. Nakatani hasn’t yet broken through as an international star, but early signs are that he’s very, very good- a beautifully creative and accurate puncher.

Moloney is the underdog, but he’ll test the younger fighter: in particular, whether the defence stands up as Nakatani moves up in weight is yet to be conclusively seen, and we’ll learn more here. It’s a good fight, and a chance to get an early look at a fighter who may be on the pound-for-pound lists in the coming years. Bear in mind, if it interests you, that despite being a title fight this is not the co-main, or on the PPV portion of the card: it’s scheduled to be the final fight on the prelims, aired on ESPN and ESPN+.

Beyond that, the card is fine, if unspectacular. Former 130lb champion Oscar Valdez makes his return a year after his loss to Shakur Stevenson, in a tune-up fight against Adam Lopez. Raymond Muratalla, at 26, needs to move from ‘prospect’ to ‘contender’ status and seeks to do that by fighting Jeremiah Nakathila, a former title challenger. Nico Ali Walsh, grandson of Muhammad Ali, is certainly being promoted more on his name than his prospects as a future champion, but he’s entertaining. And there are some other prospects on show too. It’s not a bad card at all. 

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About the author
Lukasz Fenrych
Lukasz Fenrych

Lukasz Fenrych is an analyst and writer. He has been covering combat sports since 2019, and joined Bloody Elbow's boxing team in 2022.

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