Gray Matter: Devin Haney and the pound for pound meltdown
What a bloody week!
On Saturday, the Ring Magazine belt took a mandatory-eight count after being slugged to the canvas by former two-time heavyweight champ Anthony Joshua. Shaken up, but game to continue, boxing’s most respected and cherished prize dusted itself off and went back into battle.
BOOM! – a Devin Haney body blow put the old girl down for a second time on Thursday night.
“The ring magazine could keep their belt… You won’t see me with it before or after this fight!”
That was a tweet from Haney’s official Twitter account in response to the reigning undisputed lightweight champ’s no-show on The Ring’s latest pound for pound list.
“The youngest undisputed champ of the 4 belt era… & not on the pound for pound list is crazy especially when guys who don’t even hold the ring magazine belt currently made the list gtfoh.”
OK, now I’ll get my shots off.
First up, boxing is in a great place in 2022. There are so many amazing fighters across the 17 divisions that I’m reminded of the 90s glory years. It seem like only yesterday when we had Whitaker, Chavez, Holyfield, Lennox, RJ, Toney, Chavez, Terry Norris, Floyd, Oscar, Sugar Shane, Tito, Morales, Barrera and Naz. Sorry if I missed anyone – that was off the top of my head.
Right now we have Tyson Fury, Usyk, Beterbiev, Canelo, GGG, Inoue, Crawford, Spence, The Charlos, Loma, Bivol, Josh Taylor, Tank, Ioka, Chocolatito, Estrada, Shakur and – YES – the unbeaten Ring, IBF, WBA, WBO and WBC lightweight champ Devin Haney.
When Haney outpointed George Kambosos to become undisputed, on June 5 of this year, he was thrown into the mix for a pound for pound spot. Ultimately, the panel went against his entry because Jermell Charlo had just earned his position at No. 10 with a shuddering 10th-round knockout of Brian Castano in their May rematch.
There was frustration at not being able to include Haney. There was frustration at not being able to include Shakur Stevenson. There was frustration when we removed Chocolatito. Hell, there was so much frustration that we considered recreating “The Dynamite Dozen” (which would have mimicked KO Magazine’s 12-fighter system that existed in the 90s).
Full disclosure: I can understand Haney letting off some steam. He’s a brilliant young champion with the world at his feet. It’s just that some of his reasoning is way off and the approach work is awful.
I’ll go over two parts of the complaint:
“The youngest undisputed champ” – When it comes to a pound for pound list, your D.O.B. is about as relevant as the music you select for your ring entrance. The youngest fighter on the current pound for pound list is 29 years old (Inoue). The older you are, the longer you’ve been around. More on that later.
“Not on the pound for pound list is crazy especially when guys who don’t even hold the ring magazine belt currently made the list.” – There is no correlation between holding a Ring championship and the pound for pound list. Hiroto Kyoguchi is The Ring’s junior flyweight champ and he’s not on the list. The aforementioned Shakur Stevenson is The Ring’s junior lightweight champ and he’s not on the list. Jai Opetaia is The Ring’s cruiserweight champ and he’s not on the list.
Now, let me give “The Dream” his props.
At 23 years old, Haney’s ceiling in this sport is off the charts. I’ve been following him for years and his talent is undeniable. Haney’s speed, athleticism, ring IQ, defense and reflexes make him the stuff of nightmares for any lightweight. It’s not a case of “if,” but when Haney becomes a pound for pound entrant.
However, there are reasons why he hasn’t made it yet.
While Haney (28-0, 15 KOs) is undisputed champ at 135, there remains a select group of lightweights snapping at his heels. Lomachenko, Ryan Garcia and Gervonta Davis are in hot pursuit, and it’s a matter of time before Shakur joins them. Haney made history by outpointing Kambosos, but there’s still a ton of work to do at lightweight. Newsflash: beating the top dogs in your division is a lot more important than the belts in your trophy cabinet (Ring included).
In terms of career-best wins, Haney’s prior four opponents are his best. We have Yuriorkis Gamboa (UD 12), Jorge Linares (UD 12), Joseph Diaz Jr. (UD 12) and Kambosos (UD 12). That’s not bad, but is there anyone on the current pound for pound list that can’t match him?
Like it or not, when one creates a pound for pound list, they work off their own criteria. Some say you should imagine all fighters being the same size and competing against each other. That sounds good in theory, but it’s a flawed system. Chocolatito is Chocolatito because he’s a brilliant little fighter. Make him bigger and he wouldn’t be Chocolatito anymore. Other experts work off the eye test. That would make sense if you can name an expert with a 100-percent success record in this area. You can’t, so don’t bother looking.
The best criteria for pound for pound supremacy is resume and performance level. It takes time to build a resume. From my vantage point, Haney hit the world scene in 2019. It actually says a lot for his skill and pedigree that he’s even being considered for a pound for pound spot right now. Here’s an interesting stat: Oleksandr Usyk, Naoya Inoue, Terence Crawford, Canelo Alvarez and Vasiliy Lomachenko, who all appear on The Ring’s current pound for pound list, were world champions before Haney had even turned pro (December 2015). The rest of the guys on the list have had statement victories (plural) over the best fighters in their respective weight classes.
And speaking of Lomachenko; this talk that the Ukrainian star shouldn’t be pound for pound rated is absurd. He topped the list before losing a decision to Teofimo Lopez. He then had shoulder surgery and looked dazzling upon his return. Do we ignore the fact that we was once No. 1? Do we ignore his performance level? Do we ignore the fact that he kicked ass at three weights? Do we just ignore the fact that he’s spent significant time in his home country which is under attack? Give the guy a break.
In closing, I expect an ass kicking for writing this column, but I couldn’t care less. I don’t think a fighter should attempt to bully their way onto a pound for pound list and design their own criteria for inclusion. To watch Haney take a democratic panel decision that went against him and use it as an excuse to turn his back on a championship that’s been held by some of the greatest fighters of all time is disheartening.
I should also point out that while doing research for this column, I noticed that ESPN don’t have Haney rated on their pound for pound list. Given that the champ is shunning The Ring title now, does that mean he’ll refuse to fight on the ESPN network?
You do the fighting, Devin. We’ll do the ratings.
Tom Gray is managing editor for Ring Magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing