By Thomas Gerbasi
Devin Haney laughs when asked how he manages to handle life in the glare of the boxing world’s spotlight so well at the age of 20.
“That’s funny that you say that because coming up, there was a rumor going around some boxers when I was 17 saying that I was lying about my age,” said Haney, who is indeed 20 years old and doing better than most navigating the often turbulent waters this sport can throw at the young and talented.
“I would have to say my father kept me on the right track through this journey,” said Haney, BoxingScene’s 2018 Prospect of the Year. “But one thing about me is that I came up around this stuff, so it’s nothing new for me. Some people grow up in a little town and they don’t see anything and then they come to somewhere like Vegas and they just go crazy. I came up around here so it’s nothing new to me. I saw all this stuff before.”
The proof is on his Instagram page, where you will find photos of a young Haney with the likes of Zab Judah, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Sr., and Mike Tyson. It was evident early on that Haney was a special boxer, and he had the 130-8 amateur record to back that up. His age did hurt him when he was deemed too young for the 2016 Olympic squad, so he opted to turn pro at 17 instead of waiting for the 2020 Games.
That decision is paying off now, with Haney now 20-0 with 13 knockouts. In 2018, the Las Vegan took that leap to the next level of competition, stopping 33-2 Mason Menard in May and then decisioning former world title challenger Juan Carlos Burgos in September.
“It definitely felt like a breakout year,” said Haney. “This year I ended being top ten in three different organizations, so it was definitely a breakout year for me.”
More than winning, Haney has impressed while doing so, showing that his game is evolving as his competition is rising. But with such dominant wins come the criticism that he hasn’t been tested yet. So has he?
“No matter how I feel, as long as I keep looking good when I fight, they’re gonna always say that I’ve never been tested,” said Haney. “And I feel that’s gonna go on and on until the end of my career if I keep winning how I’m winning. It’s bittersweet. Of course I want to go in there and I don’t want to get touched – I want to come out as clean as possible without any bumps or bruises. But I also want people to know that I really am the truth.”
It’s getting to that point where he will have the opportunity to prove that to the world. Haney is on a collision course with 21-year-old phenom Teofimo Lopez (whose first-round finish of Menard in December effectively took him from prospect to contender), and there’s also more up and comers like Ryan Garcia, Shakur Stevenson and Karlos Balderas all in or around 135 pounds. But for now, Haney has to deal with 25-0 South African Xolisani Ndongeni.
The ShoBox-televised bout on January 11 is a risky one, given the history of virtually unknown fighters from Africa coming to the States and giving a rude awakening to highly-touted opponents. But Haney knows what he’s in for in Shreveport, even if he’s not scouring the internet for tape on his foe.
“I try not to watch too much film,” he said. “I stress this a lot – a guy can watch me all day. I have a ton of film and sparring sessions on YouTube and then they get in there and it’s a totally different fighter because I have so many different styles and I can adapt to anything. So I don’t watch that much film.”
It’s worked so far for Haney, who is getting a little antsy about taking the next step in his career.
“It’s kind of hard to stay patient,” he said. “I’ve been speaking with Showtime and they told me that this is my last fight on ShoBox and I’m going to (Showtime) Championship Boxing. So I’m kind of getting impatient, but I’m also impatient to show the world that I’m ready for Championship Boxing and ready for that next level.”
RUNNERS-UP FOR PROSPECT OF THE YEAR (listed alphabetically):
Efe Ajagba, 24, heavyweight: In five fights this year, the heavy-handed, 6-feet-5 Nigerian scored four first-round knockouts and made one infamous opponent, Curtis Harper, walk out of the ring before their bout even began. Nigeria’s Ajagba, a 2016 Olympian, takes a 9-0 record, including eight knockouts, into 2019.
Joshua Buatsi, 25, light heavyweight: The hard-hitting Buatsi showed impressive power while knocking out five of his six opponents in 2018. The Ghanaian-born, London-based Buatsi (9-0, 7 KOs) might emerge as the best pro from a 2016 British Olympic team that included Joe Joyce, Josh Kelly and Lawrence Okolie.
Jaron Ennis, 21, welterweight: This Philadelphia native easily handled his two slight steps up in competition when he stopped Armando Alvarez (18-2, 12 KOs) and Ray Serrano (24-6, 10 KOs, 1 NC) in the third and second rounds, respectively, in two “ShoBox” main events. Ennis (22-0, 20 KOs), an uncommon combination of speed and power, knocked out each of his five foes in 2018.
Shakur Stevenson, 21, featherweight: Training alongside Terence Crawford has had a positive effect on this 2016 Olympic silver medalist. If the Newark, New Jersey, native continues developing power to go along with his hand speed and overall skill, Stevenson (9-0, 5 KOs) will win a featherweight world title sooner rather than later.
Daniyar Yeleussinov, 27, welterweight: This 2016 Olympic gold medalist from Kazakhstan made his pro debut April 28 and got off to a strong start to his pro career this year. Yeleussinov (5-0, 3 KOs), a strong southpaw, knocked out Nicaragua’s Marcos Mojica (16-3-2, 12 KOs) in just his fifth pro bout.
EDITOR’S NOTE: BoxingScene.com’s awards panel determined Teofimo Lopez has surpassed the prospect stage, despite that he has just 11 professional fights. Otherwise, the undefeated lightweight would’ve received serious consideration for this award. And yes, we realize Devin Haney has nine more pro bouts on his record than Lopez.