By the time Devin Haney strolled into the post-fight news conference at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, the 24-year-old undisputed lightweight champion was aware of the widespread perception that judges had erred in awarding him a unanimous decision win over Vasiliy Lomachenko on Saturday night.
Haney, who holds lightweight belts from all four major sanctioning bodies, connected with heavier punches over the championship bout’s 12 rounds, but the punch statistics said Lomachenko, a 35-year-old from Ukraine, threw and landed more.
While many fans discussing the bout on social media griped about Haney’s win, the undefeated contender Shakur Stevenson, who had been angling for a showdown with Saturday night’s winner, called the outcome a “robbery.”
Stevenson may have overstated the case — two judges scored the bout 115-113 for Haney, while a third had Haney winning it 116-112, all relatively close. But the outcome, and the backlash to it, highlight a paradox built into high-level boxing.
Fans clamor for marquee matchups between elite fighters, and recently the lightweight division has delivered. An April matchup between Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia sold out T-Mobile Arena and generated 1.2 million pay-per-view buys. Saturday’s bout between Haney, the undisputed lightweight champion, and Lomachenko, a former world champion in three divisions, had even higher stakes, with four world title belts on the line.
But closely contested bouts often spawn debatable decisions. In a bout where neither fighter had a clear edge, one judge, Dave Moretti, scored eight rounds in Haney’s favor.
Amid all the arguing online, Haney told reporters that to him, the win felt definitive.
“People can say what they want to say,” said Haney, now 30-0 with 15 knockouts. “The judges had a unanimous decision.”
In the lead-up to Saturday’s bout, Haney predicted he would pound Lomachenko into retirement. He possessed edges in height and reach, and said his improved punching power would help him make Lomachenko look average.
According to CompuBox, Lomachenko landed 124 of 564 punches, compared with 110 of 405 for Haney. In amateur boxing, where judges favor output over punching power, and where Lomachenko won two Olympic titles, simply outlanding his opponent would likely have earned him the decision.
Much of Saturday’s bout took place at close range, which favored the shorter-armed Lomachenko, who scored repeatedly with lead left hands to Haney’s forehead.
“For me it’s a big, big question,” Lomachenko, now 17-3 with 11 knockouts, told reporters at a news conference. “What happened?”
Pro bouts are scored round by round, so cumulative punch stats can be misleading. Lomachenko outlanded Haney in five rounds, and Haney outlanded Lomachenko in five others. In the remaining two frames, the fighters landed the same number of punches.
Many of Haney’s connects were heavy body blows that blunted Lomachenko’s advances. Occasionally he landed sharp left hooks to limit Lomachenko’s lateral movement. Haney acknowledged that he fought at Lomachenko’s preferred range, but said he had done it intentionally.
“I knew I had to take it to him, and fight a fight you guys haven’t seen me fight before,” Haney said. “Not every fight is going to be pretty.”
Still, for people looking to second-guess the fight’s judges, Round 10 stands out.
Statistically, Lomachenko held an advantage — 11 landed punches to Haney’s five. He also seemed the aggressor, and appeared to stun Haney with one of his punches. But Moretti awarded the 10th to Haney.
His scorecard was one of several reasons Lomachenko’s manager, Egis Klimas, said he planned to file a formal protest on Monday.
“I guarantee we’re going to kill that decision,” Klimas told reporters.
The other two scorecards, which favored Haney by one round, were more reflective of the fight’s tight margins and brisk pace.
During the break between Rounds 7 and 8, Lomachenko’s cornermen urged him to throw more jabs. He opened Round 8 aggressively, and walked into a sharp body shot from Haney. When Lomachenko finally landed his own jab, the capacity crowd chanted “Loma.” Before the bell, Haney had given some ground.
In the final round, Haney resumed his two-fisted body attack. When Lomachenko landed a straight left, Haney answered with two hooks. Just before the final bell, Haney landed a long left jab.
Lomachenko left the bout impressed with Haney’s skills.
To a point.
“If you’re talking about Linares, if you’re talking about Lopez — for me, they’re better than Haney,” Lomachenko said, referring to Jorge Linares and Teofimo Lopez, two of his past opponents.
Lomachenko’s in-ring future remains hazy. He proved he is still an elite performer in a talent-laden lightweight division, but has acknowledged that this bout was likely his final chance to become an undisputed champion.
For his part, Haney had hoped Saturday’s bout would erase doubts about his championship credentials, but the result only appears to have emboldened potential opponents.
“Devin’s not on my level, and I’m going to show it,” said Stevenson, the former 130-pound champion.
Haney, who has competed at 135 pounds since his adolescence, discussed a probationary move to the 140-pound super lightweight class. He does not plan to vacate his lightweight titles, though. Instead, he teased mega fights against Stevenson and Davis, who is nicknamed Tank.
“Me and Tank is a massive fight,” he said. “It’s going to happen, sooner than later.”