Sunday, May 19, 2024

Boxing Pound-for-Pound Rankings: Devin Haney tumbles out of top 10 after humbling loss to Ryan Garcia

The most fickle part about the sport of boxing is that no matter who you are, in the court of public opinion, you are only as good as your last performance. 

While that’s certainly unfair in most cases, it has become the reality during the modern era, where elite fighters are only competing twice per year. And in the case of former undisputed lightweight champion Devin Haney, the past week has seen him go from being unbeaten and ranked among the pound-for-pound best in the game at age 25 to the inevitable whispers surrounding whether he was ever that good to begin with following the first loss of his pro career

Once again, no one ever said this was a fair system for deciding, whether you’re a fan or media member, exactly where a fighter’s stock should actually be. 

Haney (31-1, 15 KOs) may have showed heart in even making it to the scorecards after being dropped three times by Ryan Garcia in their pay-per-view clash inside Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. But all of the talk, understandably, about Haney’s poor performance (despite being an 8-to-1 betting favorite) have centered upon his shocking inability to avoid seemingly the only dangerous weapon in Garcia’s arsenal: his lightning-quick left hook. 

Sure, it must be noted, that Garcia might have purposely chosen to miss weight, which prevented him from needing to tax himself down to the 140-pound limit during the final days when he, instead, weighed in over three pounds heavy (and was forced to forfeit a reported $600,000 of his purse). And there’s also the fact that Garcia, who unleashed an extreme level of mind games to try and get under Haney’s skin throughout the promotion, brought with him the confidence of having split six amateur fights against Haney dating back to their teenage years.

But this was a fight in which finding an avenue for defeat for Haney was becoming more and more difficult, outside of the threat of him getting caught with one huge punch. This was the same Haney who had nearly secured fighter of the year honors in 2023 by outpointing Vasiliy Lomachenko at lightweight via disputed decision before dismantling Regis Prograis in his 140-pound debut to claim the WBC title. 

A master of distance control and technique, with one of the most educated jabs that boxing has seen in decades, it never seemed to matter that Haney lacked one-punch finishing power because of how large his fight IQ was for a boxer so young. 

So, how did Haney get here, back to the drawing board, and forced to shake off a loss that his critics universally slammed as embarrassing (even with Garcia producing the best performance of his career)? 

For as great as Haney has been since arriving on the pro scene — and for as brilliant as he and his father, Bill, have been guiding his career as a constant promotional free agent — there are certain lessons that you can only learn through experience inside the ring. 

Not only did Garcia possess the one piece of Kryptonite capable of breaking through Haney’s defense by timing his jab and punching with him to curl his dangerous left hook around his opponent’s high guard, the totality of the fight showcased the one major weakness in Haney’s still developing game: his inability to fight on the inside. 

Outside of the bizarre moments in which Garcia turned his back to Haney in the clinch, leaving his mid-section open for punches, Haney failed to target the body throughout, which proved to be a big part of Gervonta Davis’ attack in finishing Garcia last April. 

Haney, who was hurt by an early left hook in Round 1, did make the proper adjustments in Rounds 2-5 by ducking under the left hook of Garcia to land single punches before clinching. But none of those landed punches did much to hurt Garcia and while Haney did well to strategically hold in an effort to limit Garcia’s output while cutting off the ring and cornering him, he was unable to turn those advantageous positions into offense like others before him (and, most notably, Hall-of-Famer Andre Ward). 

Ward, like Haney, was long seen as a slick and adaptive boxer who lacked big-time power but relied on his accuracy and smarts to outwit more dangerous foes. And while that description is true, it was only enough to get Ward so far. The reality is, the majority of Ward’s biggest wins — from Mikkel Kessler and Carl Froch to Sergey Kovalev — were won due to his ability to be the bigger fighter on the inside, where he could use body shots, pivots and physicality to rough his opponents up. 

In the long run, the Garcia loss could end up being the perfect lesson learned as Haney only continues to get better as he seeks increasingly dangerous fights; but only if he takes the time to critique his mistakes and improves upon them in ways that so many legends before have done. Think of the career paths of Ray Leonard and Tommy Hearns, for example, as each bounced back from high-profile defeats in the early going (Roberto Duran and Leonard, respectively) but were able to evolve and grow in ways that helped each redeem themselves in demonstrable fashion. 

Haney really was as good as he looked to be in previous years, where the only lingering issue following him were fears that his chin wasn’t up to bar because of one punch against Jorge Linares late in their 2021 meeting that saw Haney hold and circle away to the boos of the crowd. But its now time for him to take a bit of a reset and prove it to all of us all over again, which is why the humbling loss drops him from the P4P rankings but doesn’t remove him from the list of those looking to breakthrough into the top 10 with a single, breakthrough performance. 

Due to the way in which he shocked the world, just as his behavior outside the ring fooled many into thinking he was mentally unfit to compete, Garcia also joins Haney in that same group. Garcia, however, will have a longer row to hoe from the standpoint of convincing P4P voters he belongs here for the long run, as he, too, continues to evolve and add to his game after just his second fight with new trainer Derrick James. 

Remember, it was Garcia who everyone said lacked defense, awareness, footwork and really anything else besides speed coming in and still took his game to another level of maturity in order to maintain his poise and defensive responsibility in order to chip away at Haney before dropping him three times to earn a close decision. 

For better or worse, you are only as good as your last appearance. But boxing is so much more fun when fighters are allowed the grace and room to swing big and fail on the brightest stage knowing that their breakthrough performance could be right around the corner. 

Look at the improvements Garcia made in one year from the Davis to Haney fights. Now, imagine where Haney might find himself one year from now, as the sting of the Garcia loss continues to fuel his resolve in making sure a performance like this never happens again.

Using a criteria that takes into account everything from accomplishments to current form, let’s take a closer look at the top fighters inside the ring. Below is the latest Pound for Pound rankings update after Garcia’s win over Haney in April.

Pound-for-Pound Rankings

1. Naoya Inoue

Undisputed junior featherweight champion (23-0, 21 KOs) | Previous ranking: No. 1

Even though he briefly lost the top spot in the rankings following Terence Crawford’s spellbinding domination of Errol Spence Jr., the Japanese “Monster” reclaimed it by equaling Crawford’s claim as the only male boxers in the four-belt era to be undisputed champion in two divisions. Inoue, a four-division champion, will return on May 6 in Japan against Luis Nery. 

2. Terence Crawford

Undisputed welterweight champion (39-0, 29 KOs) | Previous ranking: No. 2

If you wondered how great Crawford truly was, his dismantling of Spence in their undisputed title bout provided those answers. Crawford, who proved he would be a handful for any welterweight in history will move up to 154 pounds in August when he challenges WBA champion Israil Madrimov.

3. Canelo Alvarez

Undisputed super middleweight champion (60-2-2, 38 KOs) | Previous ranking: No. 3

The former P4P king is still the undisputed champion of one of the sport’s hottest divisions and he proved against Jermell Charlo in their September PPV that he’s not done yet at 33. Unwilling to face David Benavidez next, Alvarez returns May 4 against Mexican countryman Jaime Munguia.

4. Oleksandr Usyk

Unified heavyweight champion (19-0, 13 KOs | Previous ranking: No. 4

Usyk’s professional run has been as decorated as it has been perfect. The former undisputed cruiserweight champ scored a pair of resounding victories over Anthony Joshua to unify a trio of heavyweight titles. Following a stoppage of mandatory foe Daniel Dubois, Usyk now finally gets his undisputed clash against WBC champion Tyson Fury in May.

5. Artur Beterbiev

Unified light heavyweight champion (20-0, 20 KOs) | Previous ranking: 6

Whatever whispers regarding Beterbiev getting old as he approaches year 39 were violently whisked away by his dismantling of former 168-pound champion Callum Smith in January. With his mandatories out of the way, an undisputed showdown against WBA champion Dmitry Bivol is next on June 1 in Saudi Arabia.

6. Dmitry Bivol

WBA light heavyweight champion (21-0, 11 KOs) | Previous ranking: No. 7

Following an incredible 2022, which included a victory over Canelo Alvarez and almost universal acclaim as the fighter of the year, Bivol sat out most of 2023 in hopes of facing unified champion Artur Beterbiev. Their undisputed title clash is set for June 1 in the defining fight for both of their careers.

7. Gervonta Davis

WBA lightweight titleholder (29-0, 27 KOs) | Previous ranking: 9

Davis’ body-shot knockout of Ryan Garcia in their superfight last April looks even better now that “King Ryan” became the first boxer to drop and defeat former undisputed lightweight king Devin Haney. With a 2023 jail sentence behind him, “Tank” returns on June 15 against unbeaten Frank Martin. 

8. Tyson Fury

WBC heavyweight champion (34-0-1, 25 KOs) | Previous ranking: No. 8

This has been nothing short of a weird 2023 for the “Gypsy King.” Fury was criticized heavily for delaying his undisputed fight against unified king Oleksandr Usyk, which will now take place in February. And he was lucky to hang on to his unbeaten record in his disputed decision win over former UFC champion Francis Ngannou in October, which saw Fury hit the canvas against the novice pugilist.

9. Shakur Stevenson

WBC lightweight champion (21-0, 10 KOs) | Previous ranking: No. 10

Although Stevenson limited the hard-punching Edwin De Los Santos to a CompuBox-record over 12 rounds of just 40 punches landed, he was widely criticized for how boring his November victory was in their vacant 135-pound title bout. Stevenson, who appeared to have an injured left hand, won a title in a third weight division at just age 26 yet was criticized in full for not capitalizing offensively on openings.

10. David Benavidez

Super middleweight (28-0, 24 KOs) | Previous ranking: No. NR

Frustrated with waiting around for his shot at undisputed king Canelo Alvarez, “The Monster” will move up to light heavyweight when he challenges former champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk for an interim title on June 15. The former two-time titleholder at 168 pounds has proven to be just as skilled as he is dangerous.

Dropped out: Devin Haney
Honorable mention: Haney, Vasiliy Lomachenko, Teofimo Lopez Jr., Juan Francisco Estrada, Ryan Garcia

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