LAS VEGAS — Faced with his stiffest competition yet, Devin Haney came of age with the best performance of his career.
Haney, 23, retained his WBC lightweight title with a unanimous-decision victory over Joseph Diaz Jr., on Saturday at MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Haney won over the judges (117-111, 116-112 and 117-111) with superior activity, a sharp jab and clean punching. Most of all, Haney dictated the pace. He consistently beat Diaz to the punch, and when he was pressed onto the ropes, he usually pivoted out of danger and onto the attack.
But Haney (27-0, 15 KOs) didn’t cruise to victory after he jumped out to a commanding lead. He was forced to overcome some challenging moments, particularly in the final round after Diaz (32-2-1, 15 KOs) connected on a bundle of overhand lefts that he loaded up on.
Many of those shots met their mark, but Haney stood his ground. He was able to fire off a left to the body followed by a right hand to the head that kept Diaz at bay. The result was another exciting fight for Haney following criticism earlier in his career that he played it too safe in the ring.
“He said he was going to bring the dog out of me, and that’s exactly what he did,” said Haney, a Las Vegas resident. “He hit me with some good shots. They say I have no chin, but I think I showed it in this fight.”
Haney’s punch resistance was questioned after his last performance, a May victory over Jorge Linares. Haney was buckled toward the end of Round 10 that night and was forced to tough out the championship rounds.
On Saturday, Haney was again in danger late in the bout but claimed that he was never hurt.
“We got into some great exchanges,” Haney said. “I wasn’t shy to exchange with him. I want to entertain the fans.”
Haney accomplished that goal and moved one step closer to his ultimate mission: the undisputed lightweight championship.
George Kambosos Jr., who upset Teofimo Lopez one week ago in New York, was ringside in Las Vegas to scout his potential next foe.
“I saw many things,” said Kambosos, who owns four 135-pound titles. “I’ve been studying this guy for many years. I know exactly what I have to do if that fight is next.”
Kambosos, 28, also mentioned other potential opponents and said he was looking forward to watching Sunday’s lightweight contest between Gervonta Davis and Isaac Cruz in Los Angeles followed by the Vasiliy Lomachenko-Richard Commey clash next Saturday in New York.
“It comes down to what excites me the most,” he said.
Whomever Kambosos chooses, he made one aspect clear: The fight will be in his homeland, Australia.
“I’ll go to Jupiter if I got to,” Haney said. “Come on, George Kambosos, let’s do it for all the belts. The real undisputed [champion]. Let’s do it next. No more dispute with who’s the WBC champion.”