THE biggest test of Devin Haney’s career so far awaits the gifted youngster this Saturday (May 29). At the Michelob Ultra Arena (formerly the Mandalay Bay Events Center) in Las Vegas, the locally based lightweight risks his unbeaten record against vastly decorated veteran Jorge Linares.

A professional for more than 18 years, the 47-5 (29) Linares started out as a super-bantamweight, before going on to win a WBC belt at featherweight and a WBA strap at super-featherweight. Two separate title reigns followed at lightweight (WBC and WBA), where he cemented himself as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world from around 2017-2018. In January 2019 up at super-lightweight, a shocking opening-round upset defeat to Pablo Cesar Cano saw his stock take a serious hit, but he has since won two on the trot, albeit in relatively low-key contests.

Although he is 13 years older than the 22-year-old Haney, and he has hasn’t competed in over 15 months, Linares is no mere stepping stone – class is permanent, as they say. Losing to Cano in the manner that he did was a severe blow, yet he has proven in the past that he can bounce back from significant setbacks. All five of the Venezuelan’s losses have been via stoppage, but his strength of character has remained undimmed.

Like Linares, Haney turned pro at the tender age of 17. A precocious talent, the San Francisco native has not come close to being beaten in 25 fights, with 15 of his wins occurring inside schedule. Last time out in November, he dominated Yuriorkis Gamboa over the distance, though didn’t set pulses racing in the process. The skilled but faded Gamboa is the standout name on Haney’s résumé, but the American prodigy has made no secret of his desire to take on the likes of Teofimo Lopez, Gervonta Davis, Vasiliy Lomachenko and Ryan Garcia. First he must get past Linares.

Haney’s WBC title will be on the line this weekend, yet with the aforementioned Lopez being the WBC’s ‘franchise champion’, just what all these belts mean any more is anyone’s guess. These days, titles are no longer a valid measure of a boxer’s credibility. True respect and standing can only be earned by defeating quality opponents. A victory over Linares would certainly enhance Haney’s burgeoning reputation.

Having completed just 13 rounds in the past two years, compared to Haney’s 34, ring rust could be an issue for Linares. However, after a long, hard career, during which he has fought in eight countries and met luminaries like Lomachenko (l rsf 10 – May 2018), a prolonged period of rest may prove to be just what he needed at this stage.

Naturally lean but with broad shoulders and a big frame, the athletic and adaptable Linares is comfortable fighting on the front foot or using his technical smarts to connect with clever counterpunches. Boasting swift, educated hands and feet, he thrusts out jabs to the head and body, before unleashing ferocious flurries consisting of uppercuts, straights and hooks. The quicksilver Tokyo resident attacks the midsection with precision and spite, but he has been dropped on numerous occasions and he is also susceptible to cuts.

A sharp and accurate puncher like Linares, Haney possesses a level of composure and maturity that belies his youthfulness. The lightning-fast prodigy shoots out snapping jabs, supplemented by vicious hooks and overhand strikes. Mixing his shots upstairs and down, he demonstrates his impressive variety through blazing combinations, backed up by a strong defensive acumen.

As the far fresher fighter, and one who is fiercely focused and intent on exhibiting his improvements, it is difficult to look past Haney in this bout. Linares will be able to hold his head high after testing his touted rival and showing flashes of brilliance, but at the end of 12 competitive rounds it will be Haney who deservedly receives the verdict. For the rising starlet, the experience gained will be invaluable going forward.

Devin Haney vs Jorge Linares

On the undercard of this Matchroom promotion, televised live on DAZN, Northampton’s Chantelle Cameron, 13-0 (7), is set for her maiden appearance outside of Britain. The undefeated 30-year-old, who claimed the vacant WBC super-lightweight belt in October, defends against seasoned Puerto Rican Melissa Hernandez, 23-7-3 (7).

A 41-year-old who fights out of Miami Beach, the well-travelled Hernandez returned from a near-three-year hiatus with a win in April 2019, yet hasn’t performed since. The former WBC featherweight titlist can box and brawl, but Cameron is an accomplished operator who couples astute footwork with spiteful salvoes. The well-rounded Brit can triumph clearly over 10-twos.

The IBF super-featherweight title eliminator between Brentwood’s in-form Martin J. Ward, 24-1-2 (11), and South African southpaw Azinga Fuzile, 14-1 (8), is a tough fight to predict, as the two stylish boxers share similar strengths (jabs, combos, body blows, movement and counters).

An ex-British, Commonwealth and European champ, Ward, 29, has not seen action in nearly 16 months, while East London’s Fuzile, 24 – who is coming off a controversial loss – has been inactive for four months longer. This will be the first stateside outing for either man. Both have been stopped, but this one should go the full 12 rounds. In a closely contested chess match, the tentative pick is for the quick and tricky Fuzile to defy the oddsmakers by prevailing on points.

Jason Quigley, 18-1 (14), from Ballybofey in Ireland, can record an important 10-round decision victory over Pomona, California’s Shane Mosley Jnr, 17-3 (10) – the son of the Hall of Famer – in a clash of 30-year-old middleweights.

The Verdict An intriguing matchup between two fine fighters at different stages in their careers.