Growing Up Fast: Devin Haney and the experience of youth

By Declan Taylor

IT IS just before midday when two large security guards rock up at the Las Vegas eatery where Devin Haney is due to sit down for lunch.

They hang around by the door of the private room mainly, looking not so much out of place but short of ideas without their 5ft 8in asset in the vicinity.

Not long after, Bill Haney, the father-trainer, arrives and takes a seat for food but it is another few minutes before the son enters the room and shakes hands with everyone before settling down for an afternoon of talking about fighting.

A plate of cubed melon appears at his small table but he does not seem too interested in eating it, even though he has a few extra pounds to play with as the super-lightweight division’s newest star.

“I haven’t done the weight cut yet and you never know what it will be like until you actually do it,” he says. “But I’m excited to see how I feel at the new weight.

“I always feel great in sparring, much stronger and faster than I do in fights because of how much the cut to 135 takes out of me.”

But this week he can stop the cut at 10 stone as he prepares to take on probably the division’s most established name, Regis Prograis, at the Chase Center. The New Orleans native is currently ranked No.1 in the world in the division so Haney, who has now vacated all his titles at lightweight, had no intention of easing his way into the new division.

“I think the fight week will be much more comfy,” he adds. “More time to relax and just chill. I’m used to having to stress about the weight, just cutting, cutting, cutting. And be just weak. I think now it will be different.”

What will also be different for Haney is fighting, for the first time, in the Bay Arena. The 25-year-old was born in San Francisco but spent much of his childhood and adolescence in Las Vegas. Now he returns home as one of his sport’s leading lights.

“I was eight when I first came to Vegas but I was back and forth to the Bay,” Haney explains. “I lived in a few different places but I was born in San Francisco but I’m from Oakland.

“I definitely feel like this fight can open the market up there, for me at least, because I’m from there. We don’t really have much there. We’ve got the Golden State Warriors and the 49ers but the Athletics have gone to Vegas. We don’t really have much there. I definitely think it could be a huge market for me – and the world will see.”

Devin Haney poses at the Golden Gate Bridge (Ed Mulholland/Matchroom)

When he turned professional in 2015, Haney was just 17 and therefore too young to box in the States. Instead he cut his teeth in Tijuana, Mexico, boxing and winning four times before he made his American debut in the March of 2016. It has been a steady climb ever since, with outings back in Tijuana but also Melbourne, New York and Philadelphia among other territories. Never, however, in his real home.

“The Chase Center is across the Bay from where I’m from but still feels like it’s going to be a dream come true,” Haney says.

“I always dreamed of going back home to fight in front of my family and friends. There’s a lot of my family who have never been to any of my fights yet because they couldn’t afford to come to Vegas or whatever it might be, some are sick so they can’t travel. It’s a blessing that I’m able to go back home, fight in front of my family and friends and for once not get booed.

“My family being there doesn’t bring pressure but it brings excitement. There will be a lot of people supporting me and not booing me.”

It is true that despite a squeaky-clean image and a distinct lack of trash talk, Haney has had a mixed reception from crowds over the last few years. It was to be expected in Melbourne when facing Australian George Kambosos but it has happened in Vegas too, when he boxed Vasyl Lomachenko at the MGM Grand.

“I’ve been getting booed my last couple of fights,” he nods. “I don’t know why but it just comes with the territory, you know. I didn’t think I was going to get booed in my last fight but I did. When you get in the ring you don’t even hear it so it doesn’t matter.”

So would he ever lean into it and turn full heel like Floyd Mayweather in his ‘Money’ days?

“Nah because I want to just stay myself,” he responds. “That’s not really me so I don’t want to change and put on this persona like I’m somebody else. People can see through that, they can see through the facade so I just want to stay being me. He’s the bad guy in this fight.

You see how he was talking in the promo, he was talking crazy, like he’s the bad guy. I was just being nice.”

It is suggested to 25-year-old Haney that Prograis, nine years’ his senior, might attempt to old man him during the promotion and then also in the fight. But the truth is, this is outing No.31 for both men and it is Haney who has been involved in more championship fights over the course of his career.

“Maybe he might try to do that but we know that I’m the guy with the experience here,” Haney says. “I know he is going to try and come and land the left hand, that’s the only game plan that he has. He’s very flat-footed, one dimensional too. All of that is there for me to exploit.

“I don’t necessarily feel like an old head but I definitely feel like I’m a young vet in the game. I’ve still got a long career ahead of me but I accomplished a lot at a young age. I got an early start and next year will be 10 years a pro for me but really I still feel like this is only the beginning for me, I’ve still got a lot more to do in the sport of boxing.”

Given his early start to life as a pro, it is put to Haney that he might end up retiring, with his job done, much younger than some of his peers will. The Dream, whose focus is now drifting not to the melon but to his phone on the table, suddenly locks back in the conversation.

“I love what I do,” he says looking up. “I did this for free for so long. I didn’t get paid until my 19th fight. It was 17-0, 18-0, fighting for free. I didn’t see one dollar. We were doing it independently and trusting in the process. That’s another reason why I feel God has blessed me so much to be in this position because I did it for free for so long. I love what I do, I did it for free and I would still do it for free. This is more than a job.

“I’m still young, I got plenty more to go and way more things to accomplish so I don’t want to think about the end yet.”

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