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Boxing, more so than many sports, tends to get in its own way these days.
Because it’s not organized in a linear style like most professional leagues, there’s a frustrating tendency for the biggest fights—those that make the most sense—to simply not get made.
Blame it on sanctioning bodies. Blame it on promotional rivalries. Blame it on conflicts between television networks or streaming services. Or blame it on the fighters themselves.
Sometimes it’s one thing. Sometimes it’s a combination of things.
Regardless, it’s as much a signature of the modern sport as a jab, a cross or a hook.
Welterweights Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao harangued each other for most of a decade before finally getting into a ring in the latter half of their 30s, for a 2015 fight universally panned as too far past vintage.
Meanwhile, their current 147-pound brethren, Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr., have shared championship space in the weight class since 2018 and frequently chirped about a meeting to determine preeminence but have yet to make the leap from commentary to contract.
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But hope springs eternal, even in the squared circle.
With a competitive but unanimous decision over ex-sparring partner Jamaine Ortiz at Madison Square Garden’s secondary Hulu Theater venue Saturday night, three-division champion Vasiliy Lomachenko took a giant competitive step closer to what could, should and (gasp!) probably will be boxing’s next blockbuster.
A showdown for lightweight supremacy with reigning undisputed king Devin Haney.
It’s exactly what boxing needs, for several reasons, in an era when it rarely provides what fans want.
Because Haney and Lomachenko work with promoter Bob Arum and his Top Rank conglomerate, a huge chunk of the haggling that keeps other marquee matchups from being finalized is already a non-factor.
The 90-year-old veteran of backroom warfare said earlier this month, before Haney defended his collection of belts against George Kambosos Jr., that a fight with Lomachenko was on his radar for 2023.
Top Rank is just past halfway through a multiyear deal with ESPN that includes live events and other programming, and both Haney and Lomachenko’s recent bouts have been shown on the network—including the Kambosos fight from Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia (Kambosos’ home country) two weeks ago, and the Ortiz fight Saturday night topped a nine-bout show in midtown Manhattan.
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So not only is it easy to make, but making it makes a lot of sense too.
Haney is unbeaten in 29 fights, and though he earned belted status from the WBC in 2019, he wasn’t taken wholly serious as a champion until he dethroned the previously unbeaten Kambosos—who’d held the IBF, WBA and WBO titles—with a wide decision in their first get-together five months ago.
Repeating the feat this month legitimized his claim as the king of the lightweights and piqued the competitive interest of Lomachenko, who’d held the WBA and WBO belts himself before losing a pandemic-bubbled decision to IBF champ Teofimo Lopez two years ago in Las Vegas. Lopez dropped the cache to Kambosos 13 months later, clearing the way for Haney’s two-fight ascension this year.
Now 34, Lomachenko was a two-time Olympic champion before he turned pro in 2013, won a world title at featherweight in his third fight and added a claim at 130 pounds before climbing again to become a full-time lightweight in 2018.
He was 4-0 with two KOs in the division before the upset loss to Lopez and has won three in a row since—stopping Masayoshi Nakatani in nine rounds and outpointing ex-champ Richard Commey over 12 before beating the 26-year-old Ortiz, who’d arrived at 16-0-1 since 2016.
He’s ranked first among Haney’s contenders by both the WBC and WBO and third and fourth by the IBF and WBA, respectively. He’s also ranked first among the lightweight contenders behind Haney by The Ring, which has him sixth overall on the pound-for-pound list but does not include Haney in the top 10.
That’s even more reason to lock down a fight that’s easy to make, makes sense in terms of championship lineage and rankings, and, best of all, is one that both would-be competitors seem to crave.
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“That’s definitely a fight that I’ll entertain,” Haney said after the Kambosos rematch.
“We take on all comers. No matter who it is. We want to fight the best fighters in the world. I believe I’m the best fighter in the world. Whoever is next, bring him on.”
In Lomachenko, the 23-year-old would face an opponent over whom he’d have advantages in height (5’8″ to 5’7″) and reach (71″ to 65.5″), not to mention a significant edge in hand speed.
On the flip side, Lomachenko could cause problems with a southpaw style and elite-level footwork that allow him to play sound defense and utilize unique angles to land punches. There’s also a sizable gap in experience thanks to the older man’s nearly 400-fight amateur career compared to Haney’s 146.
And unless he’s a superior actor, too, he sounds like he’s hungry.
“I prepare for this moment,” Lomachenko said. “I need this chance.
“I need this fight. Undisputed. Undisputed world champion.”
Source : Bleacher Report