BN Preview: In the battle for relevance, Devin Haney needs Regis Prograis as much as Regis Prograis needs Devin Haney

BN Preview: In the battle for relevance, Devin Haney needs Regis Prograis as much as Regis Prograis needs Devin Haney


By Elliot Worsell

INCREASINGLY it has seemed like the only way to make Devin Haney, the world’s best lightweight, a bona fide superstar is for him to move through the weights and in doing so put himself in harm’s way. For history would suggest that it is only then, when disadvantaged physically, and going after new goals, fans will be able to look beyond Haney’s propensity to go 12 rounds and instead respect the skill he displays in disarming and dominating opponents.

For now, until that happens, the reality is this: not since September 2019, when fighting Zaur Abdullaev, has Haney, 30-0 (15), managed to finish a fight inside the scheduled distance. In fact, in the four years following that win he has gone the full course with Alfredo Santiago, Yuriorkis Gamboa, Jorge Linares, Joseph Diaz, George Kambosos (twice), and Vasiliy Lomachenko. All good opponents, of that there is no doubt, yet by virtue of going the distance with them, and with seemingly little interest in winning fights by any other method, Haney has created for himself a reputation as someone more effective than exciting; someone whose bark is louder than his bite; someone whose promotional push begins and ends at the pre-fight press conference.

Last time out, against Lomachenko in May, Haney was in a more compelling and action-packed fight than usual and also, in beating Lomachenko, secured the best win of his career to date. However, there were plenty watching that fight who felt the 12-round decision awarded to Haney was generous in the extreme and that Lomachenko, considered to be slightly past his best, deserved to go home with the victory. That he didn’t get the win is no fault of Haney’s, of course, but there is certainly a feeling that the American’s rise to superstardom, which his promoter is desperate to accelerate, will require more than just the decision victories he has been racking up in recent years.

Enter Regis Prograis, the WBC belt-holder at super-lightweight, whom Haney challenges on Saturday (December 9) in San Francisco. Prograis, while anything but vulnerable, does at least represent a new look and a new obstacle for Haney, the overcoming of which should deliver the California native the kind of acclaim he had been searching for throughout what was a short but successful lightweight reign. Up at a new weight, and having recently announced the relinquishing of all his lightweight belts, Haney is clearly looking to add additional chapters to his legacy and drag himself out of his comfort zone, something we can only applaud.

Moreover, in the form of Prograis, 29-1 (24), he has taken a fight against an opponent who, in contrast to Haney himself, carries a reputation for excitement and thrills and spills. This, for Haney, could be all he requires to bring out the best in him; whether that means matching Prograis and beating him at his own game, or simply using his skills, as he so often does, to defuse the more aggressive and powerful approach of the man in front of him. Either way, however he gets it done, wins over opponents like Prograis at a higher weight will go some way to establishing Haney as the superstar he so badly wants to become. Because without taking the risk and challenging himself in this manner, and without finding opponents who can act as a perfect foil for him, a fighter with a style like Haney’s, very much an acquired taste, will always find it difficult to live up to the billing of their promoter.

Indeed, an awareness of this is perhaps why Haney and Prograis have been so vocal ahead of this particular fight on Saturday. Their promo video, for instance, which was weeks ago used to announce the bout, was one of the best we have seen produced by any promotional company this calendar year. Not only that, both boxers have continued the back and forth during subsequent press conferences and also online, giving the occasion a superfight feel one could argue it doesn’t necessarily deserve based on form and pedigree.

“I’m going to beat the s*** out of him,” said Haney. “I’m thankful to be in this position and it’s a dream come true. This is a huge fight for boxing and it’s a big opportunity for me because I have always dreamed of becoming a two-weight world champion. I’m happy that I can challenge Regis, who is the best at 140 [pounds]. But I will show that I’m on a different level and that I am the best. I’m excited for it, and I think the fight is going to be fireworks. I’m far above him.

“If you look at the receipts, I called Regis Prograis out before the [Danielito] Zorilla fight. This was the fight I always wanted at 140 if I couldn’t get one of the massive fights at 135. Regis Prograis was the guy who was next in line. Whether he was to look good or not, it didn’t matter to me.”

Haney and Prograis are both fuelled by animosity (Ed Mulholland/Matchroom)

The fight to which Haney alludes, Prograis vs. Zorilla, was a fight in which Prograis, despite flooring Zorilla in round three, flattered to deceive. Stuck in first gear for much of it, he allowed his opponent back into the fight, in the end taking the win via split decision after 12 rounds [cards of 118-109 and 117-111 in Prograis’ favour, with a 115-113 card in the favour of Zorilla]. This could merely represent an example of a world-class fighter struggling for motivation and inspiration and in need of a better calibre of opponent to take them to the next level. Or it could represent something else; perhaps regression in Prograis, or his true level.

To give him the benefit of the doubt, though, one only has to look at the kind of level at which Prograis has been competing since pushing Josh Taylor to the wire in 2019. Since then, despite showing he was every bit Taylor’s equal, Prograis has had to sit and watch Taylor test himself against some of the best, all the while languishing in fights against opponents like Juan Heraldez, Ivan Redkach, Tyrone McKenna, Jose Zepeda and the aforementioned Zorilla. Though none of those are necessarily bad fighters, for someone like Prograis, someone who has already proven himself a level above them, there needed to be more and there needed to be better.

In that respect too, then, he will be as motivated by Haney as Haney is by him. After all, now, some four years after narrowly falling short against Taylor in the UK, Prograis, 34, will again have an opponent capable of providing him with that little bit of fear every fighter needs in order to truly maximise their potential and make the most of their talent. Once more, having been in the wilderness for some time, Prograis finds himself playing a high stakes game and, although the one with the belt, knows a win against Haney elevates both his profile and earning potential.

“We can go back-and-forth but I don’t try to get underneath anyone’s skin,” he said. “That’s not what I do. For me, I’m going to fight him, and I don’t care what you’ve got. It’s about me and you now. I look at who he is now because that’s who I’m fighting. I don’t care about all his past s***. I care about fighting him now and that’s what I’m looking forward to. I believe I have the power to take anyone out.

“I also think he’s going to be surprised by my skill. I’ve been working my ass off. I’ve been in LA training and sparring and in Texas doing the same s*** for a long time. It’s not going to be ‘skill versus power’; it’s going to be ‘skill versus skill’. And then I still have power too. I want to show people in this fight my skill.

“Thank you, Zorilla. If I would have blasted Zorilla out in two rounds, then I don’t think he [Haney] would have fought me. I really don’t. I had an off night. But it happened and we’re here now, so let’s go on December 9. I’m going to keep my belt. I’m not giving it up. I feel like I’m going to stop him.”

It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Prograis stops Haney this weekend and indeed if there is to be a stoppage one would imagine Prograis will be its architect. What is more, Prograis is right to highlight his own technical ability and refute the idea that all he brings to this fight is power and aggression, two things Haney, the supposedly quicker and cleaner fighter, will have to counteract with his skill. Because the truth is, Prograis, when at his best, is as crafty a 140-pound fighter as you are likely to find in this day and age; a man full of tricks and traps and an old-school mentality which combines a hunger to win with a hunger to simultaneously satisfy those who pay to watch him perform. He gets this aspect of the game more than most, which is maybe why fans enjoy watching him and why someone like Haney, who is still trying to strike this balance himself, was so keen to pursue a fight against him this year.

Whether what Prograis brings to the ring against Haney is ultimately enough to see him triumph is largely dependent on how (a) Haney manages the move up in weight and (b) how Prograis deals with both the speed of Haney and his jab, a punch he used so brilliantly against George Kambosos in Australia, not once but twice. That factor will be key, as is the case in every Haney fight, and one wonders what Prograis will be able to do to neutralise the Haney jab and ensure it is not crucial to the outcome of the fight. The threat of Prograis’ power will be important, naturally, but so too will his aggression and his ring intelligence if he is to close the distance on Haney and keep him where he wants to keep him. If unable to do this, however, and if a 34-year-old Prograis is not the same Prograis we saw in 2019, it is hard to see anything other than Haney, a man nine years his junior, peppering him from the outside and doing enough to win yet another decision.

On the undercard, meanwhile, undefeated Australian Liam Paro, 23-0 (14), fights Montana Love, 18-1-1 (9), at super-lightweight, and Cuban amateur star Andy Cruz, 1-0 (0), goes for his second pro win against Hector Tanajara, 21-1-1 (6), at lightweight. As well as that, UK-based Australian Ebanie Bridges, 9-1 (4), defends her IBF women’s bantamweight belt against Miyo Yoshida, 16-4 (0), a Japanese challenger who has lost three of her last five fights.



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