Devin Haney's chance to prove he's the best lightweight in the world is finally at hand

LAS VEGAS — He's been around for so long that it's easy to forget that Devin Haney is still a young boxer. He's 24, an age where a lot of boxers are being coddled, developed and spoon fed opponents.

Haney still retains that babyface, but he's the undisputed lightweight champion with a goal of becoming pound-for-pound No. 1. It's a spot that for several years was occupied by Vasiliy Lomachenko, who himself was a wunderkind when he turned professional in 2012.

Haney was desperate to fight Lomachenko in 2019 after he won an interim version of the WBC lightweight title that Lomachenko then held. Lomachenko had his eyes on bigger prizes and brushed Haney away as if he were a fly.

Haney has not forgotten. And though he insists the bout is not personal, he's taken jabs at Lomachenko repeatedly through the years. He'll get his chance to finally test himself against Lomachenko on Saturday at the MGM Grand when they meet in the main event of a Top Rank pay-per-view card in Las Vegas.

"He was No. 1 pound-for-pound and I'm going to get there eventually," said Haney, who is ranked seventh on the Yahoo ratings of the world's best fighters. "I got into this business to be the best and to do that, you have to fight the best. I have been trying to fight him for a long time and now this is my opportunity."

Haney is a -270 at BetMGM to defeat Lomachenko and remain unbeaten, with Lomachenko coming back at +230. Those numbers are wide, fueled, perhaps, but Lomachenko not looking great in his last outing against Jamaine Ortiz and the apparent size advantage Haney holds.

Haney entered the ring after Lomachenko won by unanimous decision over Ortiz on Oct. 29 at Madison Square Garden in New York, and seemed to dwarf Lomachenko. Haney is a big lightweight who's verging on becoming a super lightweight, while Lomachenko is a lightweight who could make super featherweight, if necessary.

Haney, though, doesn't want to hear that. Size, he said, isn't an issue in this fight.

"I don't really see it like I'm so much bigger than him," Haney told Yahoo Sports. "He beat [Masayoshi] Nakatani, who is bigger than me. Me and Ortiz are the same size. There was someone else [bigger than me that he beat] but I can't remember the name, but all of this, 'Oh, Haney's so much bigger than Lomachenko,' I don't think it's a factor.

"Size shouldn't matter. The best fighter will win and that will be me."

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 29: (L-R) Devin Haney; Bernardo Osuna and Vasiliy Lomachenko talk about a future fight at The Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden on October 29, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)
Undisputed lightweight champion Devin Haney (L) faces former undisputed champion Vasiliy Lomachenko on Saturday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. (Mikey Williams/Getty Images)

Haney's been a tantalizing package of potential from his earliest days as a pro. He's one of the quickest fighters in the division, he's got terrific feet and lateral movement and he generates a lot of power. He's won the undisputed championship by beating George Kambosos Jr. in Australia, Kambosos' hometown, twice. Yet, there's a sense he's still got room for growth.

He hasn't been as devastating as his talent suggests he might become, though it's hard to improve on 29-0 with 15 knockouts.

Haney shrugs off the notion that Lomachenko is in decline. Age is kind of a sore spot with some on the 35-year-old Lomachenko's team. He's been brilliant from Day 1 of his professional career and has overcome several major surgeries to remain an elite fighter in the sport.

But during an interview with Yahoo Sports, when his age was mentioned in passing, Lomachenko's manager, Egis Klimas, snarled.

"C'mon with this stuff about his age," Klimas said with an edge. "He's not old."

It's been fueled perhaps by the fight with Ortiz, in which Ortiz presented a more vigorous than expected challenge. Haney isn't expecting to see that version of Lomachenko, though.

"I'll admit it wasn't his best performance," Haney said of Lomachenko's win over Ortiz. "But we have to see what it was, whether it was ring rust or something else. He did leave the war [for Ukraine against Russia] and he came to fight, so that could have had an impact on how he [fought].

"We'll see [Saturday] if it was ring rust, if it was just that he's lost a step. I don't know. I know he's an excellent fighter and he's done a lot in this sport. But I think I'm better and I want to prove it."

A win would, in many ways, certify Haney as one of the elite. Teofimo Lopez defeated Lomachenko to become undisputed champion, but Lopez had significant personal and health issues when he fought a mandatory bout with Kambosos. He lost a fight most expected him to win easily, so Haney got the opportunity to fight Kambosos for all of the belts.

Haney won that and defended it in a rematch, but it's the stature that Lomachenko holds in this sport that may help define Haney as a champion.

"There's a lot of talk, 'I want to fight this guy,' or 'I'll do this to that guy when I fight him,' but it's just talk," Haney said. "Until you get in there and fight, you don't know. You know, I've been saying this for a long time. I want all of these guys because I believe I'm the best and I know what I need to do to prove it. Loma took this fight and now I have my opportunity to prove what I've been saying and feeling for a long time."