By the time those in Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden Arena were arriving at the ballroom for the post-fight press conferences of both Devin Haney and Vasyl Lomachenko, ESPN’s live broadcast was displaying images of the Ukrainian sobbing in his dressing room with his head in his hands.
Boxing News had left the fight venue at the same time as Shakur Stevenson, who revealed that he had scored in favour of Lomachenko by eight rounds to four; in the ballroom Derrick Harmon, of Top Rank and Haney’s first amateur trainer, also said that he believed that Lomachenko had won.
Lou DiBella had by then already made his way to the media section in the arena to discuss the scoring of the fight that he had as a draw. None who sat close to BN considered Haney a deserved winner. While the arena emptied one spectator – no doubt among the many who loudly booed when the scores of 116-112, 115-113 and 115-113 were announced – shouted to those in the media seats, “That’s not okay”. Another shouted, to ESPN’s broadcast team, “Tell them, Max [Kellerman]. It wasn’t even close”; Bill Haney had even been struck by a bottle of beer when he and his son made their way back to his dressing room.
An hour earlier Devin Haney, like he was anything other than a long-term resident of Vegas and a successful fighter, had been loudly booed when he was travelling in the opposite direction to the ring, and Lomachenko – making an evocatively lonely journey – was similarly loudly cheered, as he was whenever he let his hands go.
Despite the widespread belief among the media that Lomachenko had excelled and had deserved the decision, there was an acknowledgement of how difficult had been many of the 12 rounds he shared with Haney to score, and therefore that the two scores of 115-113 for Haney were difficult to object to. It was the 116-112 scorecard of Dave Moretti, and more specifically the fact that he had given Haney three of the last four rounds, that had been more troubling; even the most cynical would regardless have had to recognise that Lomachenko was the fighter who still had a contract with Top Rank; Haney’s had run its course at the final bell.
On the occasions a truly unjust decision is announced the fight promoters can often struggle to mask an air of embarrassment and a sheepish edge. Some feign outrage; others genuinely feel it. At the post-fight press conference those at Top Rank betrayed no such thing, even if those among the media, as a consequence of scrolling through their social media feeds and conversations they had had since the final bell – and perhaps also troubled by the distressing images of Lomachenko – had an increased sense of conviction that Haney, no matter how impressive he had been, had not deserved victory.
“This is the biggest robbery in the middle of the day,” said Lomachenko’s manager Egis Klimas when they arrived at the top table, and before a question had even be asked. “For the other team, Christmas came in the summer.
“We’re not going to let it go. I guarantee you we’re going to protest; we’re going to appeal that decision. Somebody needs to end this injustice. Somebody needs boxing put in the place it has to be. It has to be adjusted.”
“During the whole fight I controlled the fight,” Lomachenko said. “All fight I understand – [I’m] winning. So for me it was a big surprise when [after] 12 rounds – I was sure I won this fight. But it is what it is.
“I controlled this fight. I controlled every round. For me, it’s a big, big question. ‘What happened – in the result today?’
“My father [and trainer Anatoly] always taught me – you need to win without question. [But] you forget, [Haney’s] bigger than me.
“One hundred per cent I don’t lose this fight. One time [in the fight] I had a bad situation.”
The fighter explained that he had thought of his son repeatedly phoning him during the day to say, “And the new…” when he had started to cry. He was then asked what more he felt he could have done to win and, still exasperated, he laughed.
“I don’t know,” he then said – and he appeared to believe it. “Every round, I come back to the corner, I understand, ‘It’s my round’. Then the 12th round, I understand, ‘Maybe I need a little bit of defence. I can give him this round. I don’t need to win this round’. Maybe I don’t understand boxing.”
In the interval between his departure and the arrival of the 24-year-old Haney, BN relived a previous conversation with Lomachenko’s respected cutman and cornerman Ross Anber, who had expressed concerns that the judges would do Lomachenko a disservice. That before they left Klimas revealed that they had previously questioned the selection of Moretti as a ringside official had simply provided a further reminder of how cruel the city of Vegas can be.
When the Haneys arrived they were followed by countless friends, family and sycophants who spread themselves evenly across the ballroom and willingly shouted “Allah” when three times Bill Haney, via the microphone, shouted “Takbir”. “All praises due to Allah,” he then added.
“Tonight, one star has set and one star has risen,” the lightweight’s father, trainer and manager grandly continued. “The king of boxing is here. It’s Devin Haney.” A round of applause from the Haneys’ entourage then followed, and was complemented by their competitive calls of, “And still…”.
Devin Haney had by then already had an exchange in the ring with his rival Stevenson. For all of the attempts at cheerleading from those around him, he had also accurately read the room in both the arena – perhaps helped in doing so by Stevenson – and the ballroom, even when he attempted to suggest that by beating Lomachenko he had established himself as the world’s leading fighter, pound-for-pound.
“I’ll talk to my team and we’ll see what’s next,” he said. “Maybe we fight at 140lbs, and see how I feel and keep the belts at 135lbs and come back at 135lbs in a fight that makes sense. Or we might just stay at 135lbs. I proved myself tonight against a future hall of famer. How much more do you guys want me to prove? It’s like you guys want me to keep proving and proving and proving until I can’t prove anymore.”