The late 2010s and early 2020s saw the emergence of a deep pool of talented fighters from 130 to 135 pounds. Understandably, this set boxing fans’ minds racing with thoughts of all the great fights that could come to fruition in the coming years. Unfortunately, even as boxing has experienced a boom period of high-level matchups and fights to unify championships, very few of those fights have involved those young fighters around the lightweight division have materialized in the ring.
Gervonta “Tank” Davis, Teofimo Lopez, Shakur Stevenson, Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia made up the core of the youth movement around the lightweight division. To date, the only fight that has taken place involving two of those fighters was Davis vs. Garcia in early 2023. Davis won the fight by knockout with a shot to the body and the fight did big business at the live gate and on pay-per-view.
Lopez and Stevenson, both 26 years old, have both claimed to “retire” at various points in their careers. With Lopez claiming he was stepping away from the sport after his most recent fight, a dominant win over former undisputed light welterweight champion Josh Taylor to claim the WBO title at the weight.
Current WBC lightweight and former featherweight and super featherweight champion Stevenson’s own “retirement” announcement came on Jan. 23 after the WBO ordered Emanuel Navarrete to face Denys Berinchyk for their vacant title. Stevenson apparently wanted a fight with Navarrete and not getting it set him off.
Much as Lopez’s claimed retirement didn’t stick — he will defend his title against Jamaine Ortiz on Thursday in Las Vegas — Stevenson is unlikely to actually step away from the sport and has even reportedly called the WBC to inform them that he is not, in fact, retired.
Much of Stevenson’s frustration likely stems from a Navarrete fight promising action, something Stevenson desperately needs to rehabilitate his image after an abysmal fight against Edwin De Los Santos to win the then-vacant WBC belt in November. In that fight, Stevenson and De Los Santos combined to land a total of 33 power punches and De Los Santos landed just 40 total punches, the fewest ever tracked by CompuBox in a 12-round fight.
Since retiring, Stevenson has engaged in a war of words on X, formerly Twitter, with both men taking shots at one another and Bill Haney, Devin’s father and trainer, has taken his own shots at both Stevenson and Garcia.
Meanwhile, Garcia and Haney have been doing boxing’s old “will they, won’t they” dance for months.
In December, Garcia and Haney confirmed their teams had been in contact about trying to make a fight between the two.
Garcia then changed his mind and decided he’d rather pursue a fight with WBA junior welterweight champion Rolando “Rolly” Romero instead. Romero is largely viewed as one of boxing’s most vulnerable champions and Garcia, while a massive star, was still hunting for his first world championship.
“We had thought Ryan had went crazy when he raised his hand talking about he was gonna fight Devin,” Bill Haney said after Garcia’s about-face. “It surprised everybody. And then guess what, he went back into who he is.”
Romero then upended everything by bailing on the proposed Garcia fight to pursue a title defense against Isaac Cruz. This led Garcia into a new round of issues with his own promoters, specifically Golden Boy Promotions head Oscar De La Hoya, in a feud that has been going on for years. Now, it appears Garcia may attempt to make the Haney fight again.
Lopez will fight Ortiz on Thursday in a special attraction for the week of the Super Bowl. In terms of matchmaking, Lopez vs. Ortiz is fine. It is an in-house fight for Lopez against a fighter who pushed Lomachenko to the brink, proving some legitimate skills along the way to a narrow decision loss.
When he is on his game, Lopez has proven an elite talent, with his win over Lomachenko to claim three lightweight world titles and dismantling of Taylor standing out as perfect examples of how good Lopez can truly be. In between was a shocking loss to George Kambosos that many feel is a case of Lopez being someone who struggles mentally.
Lopez is prone to bizarre interviews and intense family drama, including with his father and trainer, Teofimo Lopez Sr. Should he get past Ortiz, attention will again be put on a potential showdown with Haney to unify two titles at junior welterweight.
Haney, meanwhile, could be eyeing a fight with Connor Benn. Benn is 23-0 but is still dealing with the fallout of multiple failed drug tests ahead of his planned 2023 fight with Chris Eubank Jr.
“That’s the position Devin is in, Conor has earned the position he’s in and if that can happen, we’ll get to it,” Bill Haney said after Benn’s Feb. 3 win over Peter Dobson. “I won’t dismiss Conor or anything he brings to the table, but we have some other things brewing and if those things don’t come to fruition, we have got to give Conor Benn and his team a call.”
Interestingly, Davis also seems to be making a play for a fight with Benn, with both fighters expressing a willingness to get a deal done while arguing on X.
The idea of Davis vs. Benn would fit in with reports that Davis has been eyeing a fight in the United Kingdom for his next outing, though Benn is currently suspended from fighting in his home country after his failed drug tests.
Davis has built himself into arguably “the face of boxing” but his resume is still lacking when it comes to fights with the best talent and biggest names, aside from the huge event that was Davis vs. Garcia. There are plenty of options to rectify that but it’s still to be seen if that’s the direction Davis’ career takes over the coming years.
All of this is to say, despite the potential for these young superstars to have engaged in an era of huge fights against one another, it feels those fights are still far more talk than reality.
Will 2024 finally see more of this golden generation share the ring? Not unless the talk can move past social media and to the negotiating tables.
Boxing fans will just have to wait and see if anyone involved can be motivated competitively and financially to make that happen.