THE gifted Devin Haney says he’s “on a quest to be the best fighter” – and if he beats every opponent on his hit list, he will probably get there. In the 12 months since he last fought, Haney has called for fights against Gary Russell Jnr, Ryan Garcia, Gervonta Davis, Vasiliy Lomachenko, Leo Santa Cruz and Teofimo Lopez. Instead, the 21-year-old from San Francisco defends his (diluted) version of the WBC lightweight title against Cuban veteran Yuriorkis Gamboa at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida on Saturday (November 7).

The announcement of Haney-Gamboa was met with groans from most fans, as Gamboa is 38. Even Haney appears to admit it’s not the fight he wanted. In one interview he said: “I can’t force Lomachenko and Davis to fight me.”

In a bid to sell this weekend’s fight, he’s promised to do a better job on Gamboa than Davis did in December. Gamboa, Olympic gold medallist at flyweight way back in 2004, was dropped three times and stopped in the 12th. That proved his fighting heart is still ticking as, from the second round, Gamboa fought with a tear to his right Achilles that later needed surgery. Since then, of course, Davis knocked the stuffing out of Leo Santa Cruz in stunning style. Haney’s going to have go some to top that.

Haney, 24-0 (15), has also had surgery since his last fight. He picked up a shoulder injury in his unanimous points win over Alfredo Santiago, who came in at around a week’s notice. That was Haney’s toughest test to date. The Dominican switch-hitter was competitive until the fifth, when Haney produced a move reminiscent of Floyd Mayweather. He let a right hand glance off his chin and ripped a right uppercut onto Santiago’s chin that sent him on his way to the canvas. He made it through to the bell, but after that, Santiago took fewer chances.

Haney has shown that when an opponent feels he’s getting a foothold, he can find an extra gear. The willing Antonio Moran had a good fourth against him last May – and didn’t have too much success after that. Down in the fifth, the Mexican kept taking clean counters until the seventh, when Haney slung a right hand over the top for an exclamation-mark finish. Moran hadn’t been stopped before.

Haney has spent time in the gym with Mayweather, but his chief trainer is his father, Bill, and he is well schooled. Crowds have been heard gasping at Haney’s hand speed and the way he jumps through the gears, but the key to his boxing is his powerful jab.
Russian Zaur Abdullaev took Haney’s jabs for four rounds and then retired with a broken nose last September. That fight was for the Interim WBC strap and Haney was subsequently upgraded after Lomachenko was himself upgraded to Franchise champion. After outpointing Lomachenko last month, Lopez mocked Haney for becoming champion via an email from the WBC.

An ex-unified featherweight champ, Gamboa’s best days were at 126lbs around a decade ago – Orlando Salido and Daniel Ponce De Leon were among his victims – but up at 135lbs, Gamboa was a stubborn opponent for Terence Crawford six years ago, having his moments in between four knockdowns before being beaten in the ninth.

Devin Haney lightweight
Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing USA

Only 5ft 5 1/2ins tall, Gamboa’s career at the highest level appeared to be over after a seventh-round loss to Robinson Castellanos in May 2017. However, he went on to win his next four.

The majority points win over Jason Sosa might have gone the other way and the two-round blowout of Roman Martinez was meaningless. At 36, Martinez didn’t have a lot left.

Gamboa, 30-3 (18), does still have quick hands and throughout his career, he’s shown a willingness to get off the canvas and keep fighting. Haney will surely put him on the canvas as well, and stop him in the second half.

There’s also heavyweight action on this Matchroom promotion (live on DAZN), with Croatian puncher and former amateur ace Filip Hrgovic, 11-0 (9), matched with Detroit’s durable Rydell Booker, 26-3 (13) over 10. Only six weeks ago, Hrgovic blasted out Alexandre Kartozia inside two rounds, but the 39-year-old Booker has yet to be stopped. Last time out, a year ago, he took Kubrat Pulev the distance. Hrgovic, 28, can be the first to stop him.

The Verdict Gamboa will be 40 next year, so it’s difficult to see him causing Haney many problems.