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By Arne K. Lang

Matchroom Boxing honcho Eddie Hearn has confirmed that Devin Haney will meet Jorge Linares on May 15 at a venue to be determined (undoubtedly somewhere where Covid restrictions have been relaxed).

At stake will be Haney’s piece of the WBC’s fractured 135-pound world title, but more relevantly it will move the 22-year-old phenom a step closer to a potential mega-fight with one of the other young guns in the division – Teofimo Lopez, Ryan Garcia, or Gervonta Davis.

Yes, that’s putting the cart before the horse. First Haney (25-0, 15 KOs) must get by Linares which on paper is no “gimme.” Linares (47-5, 29 KOs) is a former three-division world title-holder and it wasn’t long ago that the Venezuelan globetrotter gave Vasiliy Lomachenko some anxious moments before succumbing in the 10th round. But Linares is now 35 years old and many years have elapsed since he was drawing comparisons to Nicaraguan boxing legend Alexis Arguello.

Haney, Lopez, Garcia, and Davis are collectively 76-0 and each is at roughly the same stage of his career. Gervonta Davis is the old man of the bunch. He’s 26. Haney is the baby, having turned 22 this past November. But Devin is also the most experienced, having turned pro in Mexico at age 17.

During the 1980s, Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, and Roberto Duran enlivened the sport, fighting each other in what amounted to a round-robin, nine fights in all fought across four weight divisions. Looking back 20-odd years later, the late Boston Herald (and TSS) columnist George Kimball dubbed them the Four Kings, a name that would stick.

It seems inevitable that Haney, Lopez, Garcia, and Davis will cross paths with each other before their careers are finished. More than one writer has dubbed the quartet the new Four Kings.

Watching Haney spar and work the bags at Bones Adams gym, his athleticism is immediately apparent. His body language is that of a professional football or basketball player. “I played running back and defensive back when I was a kid and I was very good at it,” says Haney, “but by the time I was eight years old, I knew what I wanted to be, a world champion boxer.” And so, Haney, with the encouragement of his father and coach, Bill Haney, put all of his eggs in one basket. Devin wasn’t yet in middle school when the Haneys pulled up stakes in Oakland and made Las Vegas their primary residence. There is no better place to nurture an aspiring world champion.

As an amateur, Haney won a slew of national tournaments beginning at age 13 when he weighed 106 pounds. Among his coaches was Floyd Mayweather Sr, who pronounced Devin his best prospect since “Little Floyd.” Nevada has a rule that a boxer must be 18 years old to turn pro, but the state athletic commission under its current head Bob Bennett softened the rule, allowing exceptions when there are “special circumstances.” Haney passed muster and made his first stateside appearance seven months before he turned 18 in a 4-round bout on the undercard of Pacquaio-Bradley II at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Haney and his fellow “kings” have traded barbs on social media. Devin has sparred with Teofimo and Gervonta and he and Ryan Garcia have a history. They fought six times as amateurs (only four have found their way into BoxRec) and the series ended at 3-3.

Some of the trash talk has gotten ugly. Trash talk in boxing has a harder edge to it than trash talk in other sports. Boxing promoters like it that way. When pressed, however, Haney concedes that he respects the other fighters in his “kingdom.” Nor does he bear any ill will toward Tim Bradley although Bradley ruffled his feathers when he said that Haney didn’t earn his belt but had it handed to him by the WBC which elevated him from the interim title-holder to the regular title-holder when the organization designated Vasiliy Lomachenko its “franchise champion.”

Bradley also said that Devin had yet to fight a world-class opponent. That was rather harsh as although Devin’s most recent opponent Yuriorkis Gamboa was well past his prime, he was certainly no slouch. Fighting in Gamboa’s backyard in Hollywood, Florida, Haney pitched a near-shutout, winning all 12 rounds on two of the cards despite fighting much of the bout with a fractured thumb on his right hand.

Bill Haney recently announced that he was stepping aside as his son’s lead trainer so that he could focus more time on business matters and on raising his two younger children, an 11-year-old-son and a 6-year-old daughter. However, going forward Devin expects his dad to continue to be the main man in his corner on fight nights.

Other trainers have always had input into molding Haney into the fighting machine that he has become. There were several coaches there on Tuesday as we watched him go through his paces. Among those observing closely and proffering advice as Haney floated around the ring, hitting the pads with Kevin Henry and then Mickey Bey, was the sprightly octogenarian Thell Torrence, a disciple of the late Eddie Futch. In his California days, Torrence was the chief trainer of Ken Norton, among others.

A common lament among boxing coaches – a lament heard in every generation -- is that kids nowadays are hard to teach because they think they already know everything. What struck this reporter watching Haney’s workout was how open he was to instruction. He soaked it all in, seemingly aware that at age 22 he hadn’t come close to reaching his peak. When he reaches it, he will likely be one or two weight classes up from where he is now, and that will likely be true also of the other young guns currently residing in his pod.

They say that too many cooks can spoil the broth, but when it comes to boxing the Haneys would disagree. Asked who he patterned himself after, Devin said “no one, I’m unique,” and he didn’t say it in an arrogant way but as way of saying that he’s been introduced to so many styles of boxing that he is something of a chameleon, able to summon up whatever style works best depending on the situation.

In our conversation, Haney gave a “shout out” to Oscar Valdez whose recent upset of Miguel Berchelt had the boxing world buzzing. Haney hopes to make the same impression when he fights Linares. It’s unlikely the fight will assume the same tack – Valdez took some punishment before re-establishing control – but it’s a safe guess that the buzz surrounding Devin Haney will get a lot louder.

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