Will Devin Haney become America’s next boxing sensation?

Boxing

When Devin Haney was a teenager and one of the top amateur boxers in the United States, he dreamed of earning a berth in the 2016 Olympics, and he was on the right path.

“I was winning all the tournaments that I needed to to go to the Olympics,” Haney said.

And then there were changes to some rules in amateur boxing — fighters would no longer wear protective headgear, and the age to qualify for the Olympics was raised.

That was it for Haney’s dream and it was on to the next one, which was to become a star in the professional ranks.

The Olympic dream had died but Haney, with the unyielding support of his father and trainer, Bill Haney, set out to make the professional one come true. Unable to get a license to box in the United States because he was too young — he had been turned down for a special permit in California — Bill Haney took him to Tijuana, Mexico.

It was there Devin made his professional debut on Dec. 11, 2015, one month after he had turned 17. He scored a first-round knockout victory.

“Once they took the headgear off and changed the age, I decided to go pro,” Haney said. “I was fighting top guys and it didn’t make sense to keep fighting the top guys with no headgear and for nothing pretty much. So I decided just to go professional.”

A little over three years later, Haney is universally regarded as one of boxing’s elite prospects and on the fast track to a title and, he believes, superstardom.

“There’s nothing to stop me from getting to No. 1 — it’s just time,” said Haney, who began boxing at age 7 when his father took him to the gym because he was getting into schoolyard fights. “Timing is everything and my time is going to come. I am only 20 years old. The other lightweights out there better catch me now because I am only going to get stronger and faster, so the top guys need to fight me now.”

Haney (21-0, 13 KOs), who was born in San Francisco and now lives in Las Vegas, had his first four pro fights in Tijuana and 10 of his first 15 there. It wasn’t always easy for him to deal with.

“In the beginning it was kind of hard and rough because a lot of people were telling me to not go to Tijuana or Mexico. Everyone thought [boxing in] Tijuana was corrupt, they’re gonna rob you, the judges are corrupt and all that,” Haney said. “So I was pretty nervous about going, but I believed in myself and so I went, and when I went it was nothing like I thought it would be. Of course, the whole crowd is against you but everything was pretty much fair.

“I do feel like that experience helped, going to Tijuana, where the whole crowd was against you to coming to fight in Las Vegas, where it’s my hometown crowd and everyone is with me. It felt so much better.”

For his fifth professional fight, he received a special permit at age 17 to box in Las Vegas, but it didn’t come on some small casino card. He landed a spot on the undercard of the third fight between Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley Jr. at the MGM Grand in April 2016. Haney won a shutout four-round decision.

From there, Haney continued to box in the U.S., but he hadn’t signed with a promoter, so his father also kept him busy on small cards in Tijuana.

“It was crazy because when I went to fight at the MGM and the bright lights and stars and all that, it made me spoiled a little bit because then when we were going back to Tijuana, I was like, ‘I don’t want to go back to Tijuana. I want to keep fighting on these big stages,'” Haney said.

But he came to appreciate what the experience did for his development. His father founded Devin Haney Promotions in 2018 and they continued to do things on their own despite being sought after by major promoters. Haney got a big break when Showtime decided to give him a chance on its prospect-oriented series “ShoBox: The New Generation.”

Over the course of his next three fights between mid-2018 and January, Haney boxed on the series against increasingly better opposition and ran the table with three dominating wins: a knockout of Mason Menard and one-sided 10-round decisions against former title challenger Juan Carlos Burgos and unbeaten Xolisani Ndongeni.

“My charisma, my personality, my everything makes me believe I am the next American star.”

Devin Haney

“They were step-up fights on paper but during those fights I was able to handle those fights pretty much easily,” said Haney, who has gained vast experience by sparring and holding his own with a who’s who of fighters, including Floyd Mayweather, Shawn Porter, Zab Judah, Amir Khan and Gervonta Davis. “On paper, I was stepping it up. They had good records. They had way more experience.

“I’ve been saying this for a little while now — those fights put me as a contender. A lot of people were putting me as a prospect because I’m only 20 years old. But you got to look at the guys I am fighting, look at their records. A lot of people kept saying, ‘prospect, prospect, prospect’ because of my age, but how can I be a prospect when I am ranked in the top 10 of all organizations? There’s no way I can be a prospect. I’m a contender. I can fight for a world title.”

Not long after the win over Ndongeni, Haney and his father made the decision to link up with a major promoter.

The next chapter of Haney’s career, the first of his new co-promotional deal with Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn, will begin when he steps up his level of opposition to face the hard-charging and experienced Antonio Moran on Saturday (DAZN, 9 p.m. ET) in a 12-round lightweight bout at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland.

Haney will have the extra bonus of being the headliner, a situation that unfolded when Oleksandr Usyk, the undisputed cruiserweight champion, suffered a biceps injury. It forced him to pull out of what was supposed to be his debut in the heavyweight division against former title challenger Carlos Takam.

“It’s a blessing. Everything worked out how it was supposed to,” Haney said. “I’m blessed to have my first fight with Matchroom and DAZN headlining. This is my time to show out, to show they didn’t make the wrong decision making me the main event and I get to show my talent.”

The Haneys liked what they heard from Hearn during a meeting in Philadelphia in late April and soon after signed a deal to bring him on to work with their company, which was critical — to have their company be part of the deal, which Hearn embraced when other promoters didn’t.

“All the sacrifices [we] made as a team paid off when we inked this deal,” Bill Haney said. “Now it’s time to show the world who the next superstar in boxing is.”

Hearn was fine with a co-promotional arrangement. He just wanted the chance to be involved with a fighter he sees as a future pound-for-pound-caliber boxer.

“The work ethic of this young man is incredible. Everything about the life of Devin Haney is the sport of boxing,” Hearn said. “It’s so inspiring as a promoter to be around a team of people with that work ethic who work so hard day in and day out to achieve their dreams. I have ensured Devin Haney and Bill and Devin Haney Promotions that we will make sure that we deliver absolutely everything we say we will deliver.

“We will give [him] the opportunity for greatness. The only thing that will stand in the way is hard work and talent and I know he has both of those things in abundance. [He] is one of the future stars of the sport and he’s a major signing for Matchroom.”

Haney was on the cusp of a title fight against Hearn-promoted contender Luke Campbell before the WBC decided to permit a fight between Campbell and unified titlist Vasiliy Lomachenko for its vacant belt.

Haney knows time is on his side, so instead he will face Moran (24-3, 17 KOs), 26, of Mexico, who won his only fight since giving former two-division titlist Jose Pedraza an extremely tough fight in a close decision loss last June.

“Moran is very tough. I know he’s going to come to fight and I know he’s going to try to put the pressure on me,” Haney said. “A lot of guys feel like if they beat me then they’re headed for the top. So I know I can’t take any fight lightly. I feel Moran is going to bring the best out of me. He’s very tall, he has long arms and he throws a lot of punches. So I feel like his style is tailor-made for me and this is just the next step to greatness for me.”

Many believe Haney will ultimately become a top fighter and nobody has more belief in that than he does.

“I want to be a multiweight champion and I want to rule the sport as a pound-for-pound star,” Haney said. “When I am the face of boxing down the line, who knows what will happen, but right now those big goals are keeping me motivated.

“My boxing skills speak for themselves. Everyone knows I have talent. I’ve been in there with many different world champions [in sparring]. My charisma, my personality, my everything makes me believe I am the next American star.”

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