“I don’t want to talk about this. All people see what happened here today.” If you hoped—outraged by an outcome you disagreed with, or hungering for something sweet in the bitterness of the defeated—that Vasiliy Lomachenko would protest his defeat to Devin Haney, you were left disappointed. For a day, at least.
Lomachenko swiftly declined that invitation to decry (while quite obviously revealing his indignation and encouraging all people to stoke theirs). Expecting further grace from a man minutes removed from a prizefight and its visceral fallout is like talk of what is best for boxing, both simple and boring.
First, a bit of the unassailable. In a sport where every point of contention, every moment of action, is subject to assault from members of the most sedentary generation in history, this much is ironclad: at the MGM Grand Garden Arena Saturday, Haney retained his lightweight championship with a close but unanimous decision win over Lomachenko. Even Lomachenko would concede that much is true. But if we were to talk about it, what did we see?
We certainly did not see a robbery. Little distinguished Haney from Lomachenko until the eleventh round, when Lomachenko put together enough offense to nearly imperil Haney, and the twelfth, when Haney disabused a pro-Lomachenko crowd of any hope that the champion was wilting. It was the kind of fight where who you think is winning is determined by who you are more closely watching—and who you are more closely watching is determined well before the first punch is thrown.
It was not, however, a fight particularly deserving of a rematch. Such a judgment is admittedly aesthetic, but so is the handwringing about scorecards, isn’t it? What became (unfortunately, not quite painfully) obvious well before the final bell was that neither Haney nor Lomachenko would violently remake the other. While the reasons are different—Haney’s size in one instance, his lack of power in the other—they are persistent. Better to let this unfinished business remain so and send both men into a ring with an opponent who offers fresh potential for the sudden.
What was evident is that Lomachenko now fights like a man in his mid-thirties. He cannot sustain his offense for an entire round, a reality that has done more than reduce his output: it has changed his demeanor. The arrogance that was as much an element of his style as his footwork is nowhere to be found. Lomachenko was once boxing’s premiere tormentor, master of the protracted beating and between-rounds stoppage, a fighter who sought humiliation as much as blood. But that fighter is no more. And before we too charitably offer the quality of his opposition or the limitations of his size as the explanation for this change, we should remember moments like the Richard Commey fight, where Lomachenko looked to coax a stoppage from referee Steve Willis rather than put Commey away, and the eleventh against Haney, where Lomachenko squandered the last minute of his strongest round. While he remains world-class, should Lomachenko wants the fights that confirm that distinction, he puts it at significant risk. There was a time when the Ukrainian’s gaudy amateur record and consecutive Olympic gold medals served as a warning and a marketing tool. Are they now part of a great hypothetical? What might he have accomplished had he turned professional earlier and managed more than 20 fights in ten years?
That question does not apply to Haney, who debuted in Mexico at age 16 and, at 24, already has a record of 30-0 (15). What he showed Saturday, what even those who would dispute his victory cannot deny, is that he belongs. Haney is somewhat unremarkable: he neither captivates nor quickens the pulse; the fighter who claims to have once knocked an opponent out of his boxing shoes now wins fights thirty-six minutes at a time.
But he had answers for Lomachenko and provided them without wielding the threat of unconsciousness. His right hand to the body never stole a breath from Lomachenko, never buckled a knee, but it won him rounds. And while Lomachenko managed to turn Haney, to slip his right foot outside Haney’s left and pivot into an advantage, Haney was often quick enough to meet him at that new angle. While this tactical response often resulted in clinches and wrestling, it is no meager feat to negate, even with intermittent success. your opponent’s preferred weapon. Haney could only fight Lomachenko with the tools he had, and what might be dull against an overmatched opponent is judged less harshly against a career sternest one. Haney will have his struggles against the very best at lightweight and junior welterweight (where his frame is begging him to go), but he wants the very best—and only they can beat him.
We saw graciousness and tears Saturday, too. And they are connected. They speak to an understanding of rare fortune, rare talent, and the price of both. The fighter who used his post-fight interview to express gratitude for those who made his career possible, from his father to the crowd who cheered him, is the same fighter who wept in his dressing room. In Money, Martin Amis writes that “Pain is nature’s way of telling us that something is wrong. Patiently, pain goes on telling us this, long after we’ve got the message.” Only Lomachenko understands what success has taken from him; only he understands how much he has left to give. Behind that merciful towel and raw knuckles was a man who’d already gotten the message, and who was being told it again.
We did not see the last of Lomachenko Saturday, but we may have seen the future overtake him for good. Fittingly then, we saw Shakur Stevenson in the ring last.