LAS VEGAS — It’s not a normal Saturday night if there’s not a controversy about the officiating in a boxing match, particularly if said match is in Nevada.
Devin Haney and Vasiliy Lomachenko went through a bitter, tough fight for the undisputed lightweight championship Saturday that left the 14,436 fans who watched it in the MGM Grand Garden Arena in a full-throated roar when it ended.
But what should have been a celebration of two outstanding fighters who put on a memorable fight was marred yet again by questions surrounding the scoring.
Haney won a unanimous decision by scores of 115-113 twice and 116-112 to retain his titles. Lomachenko teared up in his locker room afterward, recalling his 11-year-old son, Anatoly’s, words from earlier in the day.
“Remember, Dad, ‘And new!’” Anatoly told his father several times during the day.
When the final bell sounded, the crowd roared and Lomachenko leapt to the ropes. He was beaming and believed that, at 35, he’d regained the titles and was, in fact, the new world champion.
The fight was agonizingly close and there was little to choose from between the fact Lomachenko out-landed Haney 124-110 but Haney landed at a higher percentage, 27% to 22%. Punch stats are best used as a guide and not as a definitive barometer of what went on in the bout. Haney out-landed Lomachenko in five rounds. Lomachenko out-landed Haney in five rounds. In two of the rounds, they landed the same number.
Lomachenko out-landed Haney 11-5 in the 10th, but judge Dave Moretti, who had it 116-112 for Haney, gave Haney the 10th. Had he given the 10th to Lomachenko, as judges Tim Cheatham and David Sutherland did, it would have been 115-113 across the board.
The scores didn’t sit well with either Lomachenko or his manager, Egis Klimas. Klimas said he’d protest, though it’s going to be a useless exercise because no commission will ever overturn a judgement call unless there is evidence of corruption.
“This is the biggest robbery in the middle of the day and for the other team, Christmas came in the summer,” Klimas said. “We’re not going to let this go. I guarantee we’re going to protest.”
One of the issues Klimas will be sure to present is that he protested Moretti’s inclusion on the judging panel before the fight, but Nevada turned a deaf ear to it.
Lomachenko was coming off a lackluster win in October over Jamaine Ortiz and it led some to speculate he was on the decline. But he fought brilliantly Saturday and ended any speculation he’s hit the end of the line.
He, though, was stunned by the call. He didn’t even feel he needed to win the 12th.
“Of course I felt during the fight I controlled the fight, I made the fight,” Lomachenko said. “I controlled every round. For me, it’s a big, big question what happened.”
Neither Haney nor his father/trainer Bill Haney had such questions. They felt they’d won the fight and they were basking in the glory of it.
Haney felt the body work — 50 of his 110 punches landed were to the body — was the difference in the fight.
All of the questions about the scoring obscured the fact that Haney proved definitively that he’s an elite, high-level lightweight. Is he the best lightweight in the world? Well, that remains an open question. Shakur Stevenson and Gervonta Davis will have something to say about that, as will Lomachenko, who fought at that level Saturday.
But the fans booed the decision and many media members had it for Lomachenko.
“People can say what they want to say,” Haney said of the criticism of the scoring. “The judges had it a unanimous decision. That’s all that matters, is the judges. Each judge was on the same page when it came to the decision, so I got the victory.”
More than that, though, he got the respect he deserves. He may not have won in the eyes of some — even many? — but he performed beautifully against a brilliant fighter whom he correctly called “a future Hall of Famer.”
“What’s good about me is that I can go through the fire,” Haney said. “I can box. I can jab. I invest in the body. … At 24 years old, I’m experienced in that ring.”
Klimas dismissed a question about a rematch, saying he knew there wouldn’t be one.
Haney said he’s close to outgrowing the weight class and may take a fight at 140 pounds, though he said he hasn’t made up his mind. He said he would consider lightweight bouts against Stevenson and Davis.
Haney did what he needed to do even though he didn’t clearly win in the eyes of many. But he proved that he belongs among the elite in a very stacked division.
That’s one thing in Las Vegas there is no controversy about.