He didn’t have it all his own way, but Devin Haney defended his WBC lightweight title with a unanimous decision victory over former three-weight world champion Jorge Linares in Las Vegas.
Haney was seemingly coasting toward a comfortable victory Saturday night until he was caught on the chin by a brilliant short right hand at the end of the 10th round.
Haney wobbled back to his corner and spent most of the 11th round recovering before getting the nod with scores of 116-112, 116-112 and 115-113.
It had been a procession before Haney was caught.
The 22-year-old jabbed perfectly in the opening rounds and was quicker, smarter and more skillful than Linares as the Venezuelan was picked off on the outside.
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Although his best work was done at range, Haney wasn’t afraid to exchange on the inside as he looked to remind the lightweight division of his talent.
Until the 10th, Haney’s performance underscored his legitimacy three weeks out from unified champion Teofimo Lopez’s IBF, WBO, WBA and The Ring world title defense against Australian George Kambosos Jr. in Miami.
Haney and Lopez sit atop the division, but 135 pounds is one of the most intriguing in boxing, with Ryan Garcia, Vasiliy Lomachenko, Gervonta Davis and Kambosos all in the mix.
The 22-year-old Haney was criticized for a one-sided but uneventful unanimous decision win over Yuriorkis Gamboa in November, and there will be plenty of commentary around this win after he limped to the final bell.
In fact, Haney was booed when the fight ended and again during his in-ring postfight interview.
“I came in here, I got the win and I’m satisfied,” he said in front of a dissatisfied crowd at the Mandalay Bay.
“I can box, I can bang. He hit me with a good shot, I faced adversity but I got the job done.”
Despite having a date with Kambosos on June 19, Lopez has already called for a fight with Haney for all the titles. It’s a bout Haney is also open to.
“Of course, I want to make the biggest fights happen,” he said when asked about a possible fight with Lopez. “If Teofimo Lopez is next, let’s make it happen. If Teofimo wants to get it next, let’s do it for all the belts.”
It was a Haney jabfest over the opening two rounds. The American fought largely on the back foot but fired off a lightning quick jab to Linares’ head and body.
Linares hooked well but was left swinging at air as he struggled to close the distance on Haney.
Haney was at his best working away on Linares from the outside, but he wasn’t afraid to trade in close and by the sixth round had started throwing bigger shots looking for the stoppage.
Linares was marked up and tired after the seventh but still carried tremendous power and was as dangerous as he was earlier on.
He proved that in the 10th, when Haney was stunned perfect short right hand. Haney wobbled back to his corner and, despite smiling between rounds, was still buzzed in the 11th.
“It was a good shot. I was never hurt, I boxed smart,” Haney said. “It was a good shot but it didn’t hurt.
“When you get hit with a good shot, you’ve got to be smart. That was the game plan. You’ve got to continue to do what the game plan was. I did that and I got the win.”
Haney’s legs were gone and he was forced to hold on as he encountered the most adversity he’s ever faced in the ring. Linares searched for the stoppage, but the young American fought his way back into the round by the closing minute.
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