The Lightweight Kings
The lightweights are back in vogue.
Going by the self acclaimed moniker of the ‘Four Kings’, a throwback to the halycon days of messrs Hagler, Hearns, Leonard and Duran, now, the 9st 9lb (135lb) division apparently has its own modern day equivalent.
The only problems are one of the kings is yet to be crowned (Ryan Garcia), one is yet to prove his potential despite holding the WBC world title (Devin Haney) and another is significantly older and on the back nine of his career (Vasily Lomachenko). The remaining ‘king’ Teofimo Lopez is the accepted leader of the pack having unified the majority of the versions of the title by defeating Lomachenko in October 2020, but holds the spurious WBC ‘franchise’ title and, has yet to meet and defeat Haney.
On Saturday at the Mandalay Bay hotel, Las Vegas the WBC champ Devin ‘The Dream’ Haney (26-0, 15 KO’s) came through his first ‘gut check’ by defeating multi-weight world champion Jorge Linares. In an action packed fight Haney had the upper hand for the majority of the rounds working off an excellent jab with exceptional movement and follow up power shots.
He was clearly ahead in the fight and seemingly coasting to victory until being nailed by a heavy Linares right hand just before the bell and doing the first steps of the Irish jig on his way back to his corner. Linares waved his arm like a matador to show Haney to his stool on the bell and the dynamic of the fight had dramatically shifted.
It was expected that the 22 year old Haney would struggle to the see the fight out but to his credit he quickly re-grouped and shared the championship rounds, ultimately taking a 116-112, 116-112, 115-113 unanimous decision. This was without doubt Haney’s toughest contest to date and having prevailed over an excellent challenger in Linares he should now take confidence into his next fight.
Linares drops to (47-6, 29 KO’s) but at 35 will still be a test for any of the ‘Kings’. Lomachenko already holds a KO win over the Venezuelan when unifying the titles prior to a defeat to Lopez.
Talk post-fight amongst the DAZN pundits was of Haney removing the WBC created confusion by unifying their belts and meeting Teofimo Lopez as soon as possible. Lopez is due to defend his titles against Australian George Kambosos Jr in Miami on June 19. He is expected to win.
With three of the ‘Kings’ in their early twenties the future looks bright for the 135 pounders. Whether Lopez can resist the temptation to step up to 140 to challenge undisputed champion Josh Taylor will determine whether we see a lightweight shootout to crown the ultimate champion. It promises to be exciting if all remain in the division and the fights can be made.
The Filipino Flash is back
We thought Nonito Donaire had made his ‘last hurrah’ in a close defeat to Japan’s outstanding Naoya Inoue. A contest of exceptional quality that took The Ring magazine’s 2019 ‘fight of the year’ honours. We were mistaken.
On Saturday ‘The Flash’ became a world champion for a ninth time at a staggering 38 years of age by defeating Nordine Oubaali in Carson, California. He took the WBC bantamweight title by fourth round knockout after dropping Oubaali several times and finishing with a sensational left uppercut.
Donaire (41-6, 27 KO’s) raised the bar on his own record of being the oldest world bantamweight champion and showed the world he still has some gas left in the tank. Look for him to seek an immediate rematch with Inoue, which could be sensational.
Frenchman Oubaali (17-1, 12 KO’s) suffered the first defeat of his career but should bounce back.
The week ahead should feature more heavyweight shenanigans as the 10 day deadline set by the WBO for Anthony Joshua to reach agreement to meet mandatory challenger Oleksandr Usyk ends. If no agreement can be reached by the Matchroom promoted fighters the contest will go to purse bids immediately.