Why Vasiliy Lomachenko is fighting Devin Haney now instead of 4 years ago

LAS VEGAS — Devin Haney won an interim version of the WBC lightweight title in 2019, which he believed would lead to a bout with then-WBC champion, Vasiliy Lomachenko.

And it did.

Nearly four years later, Haney and Lomachenko are finally going to meet Saturday in the main event of a Top Rank pay-per-view card at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

The circumstances are wholly different, though. In 2019, Haney was 20 years old and not the highly regarded pound-for-pound star he is today. One of his peers, Teofimo Lopez, repeatedly derided him as "the email champion." And in 2019, Lomachenko wanted nothing to do with him in the ring.

The moment, though, that Haney defeated George Kambosos Jr. on June 5 in Melbourne, Australia, to become the undisputed lightweight champion, Lomachenko's perception changed. He wanted Haney, badly. He knew that Haney had a contractual obligation to a rematch with Kambosos, but he wanted to face Haney as quickly as the fight could be put together. He values the belts.

To the public, the fans and most promoters, sanctioning-body belts are despised because of how they're handed out. It's mind-boggling to consider how many compelling fights the sanctioning bodies have prevented over the years. They've stripped boxers of titles for little or no reason, their rankings are often illogical and they create multiple champions within the same weight class.

Lomachenko, who won Olympic gold medals in boxing for Ukraine at the 2008 Beijing Games and the 2012 London Games, is one of the few believers in the trinkets the sanctioning bodies put out.

He didn't want to fight Haney in 2019 not because he was concerned about him but because there were other fighters with title belts he wanted to chase. Once Haney had the belts, Lomachenko was all-in.

Lomachenko isn't crazy about the idea that the WBA is so proficient at having multiple champions in the same class, though the WBC, WBO and IBF all occasionally do it. Even having one champion in the WBA, WBC, WBO and IBF leads to four total champions in a class, and Lomachenko believes in the Olympic way of doing things: Get the four champions, put them in against each other and come out with one person holding all four belts.

That's what will happen Saturday. Gervonta Davis owns what is referred to as a secondary belt, but the winner between Haney and Lomachenko will be the undisputed champion and nothing else will matter, as Lomachenko prefers.

Vasiliy Lomachenko is a 2-1 underdog against Devin Haney on Saturday when they meet for the undisputed lightweight title at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. (Mikey Williams/Getty Images)
Vasiliy Lomachenko is a 2-1 underdog against Devin Haney on Saturday when they meet for the undisputed lightweight title at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. (Mikey Williams/Getty Images)

"This is just my opinion, but how can you have four, sometimes five, world champions in one division?" Lomachenko said to Yahoo Sports. "This guy has a belt. That guy has one and that guy. Who is the champion? When you were an amateur, you dreamed of winning the Olympic gold medal. You would enter the tournaments to qualify and then fight your heart out to win, and when it was over, there was one champion and that champion was the gold medal winner.

"In professional sport, it's the same thing. It should be the goal of every boxer to win the world title and be the champion, not one of four or more. If you want to prove the best of the best, have a tournament and you'll see who comes out."

Lomachenko is a +220 underdog at BetMGM, with Haney a solid favorite at -270. Haney's engaged in some mental warfare throughout the build-up, saying he dislikes Lomachenko and more recently accusing him of being a dirty fighter.

That kind of stuff isn't likely to work on Lomachenko, who was 396-1 as an amateur and is 17-2 in the pros. He laughs it all off and knows what is important will be determined in the ring, not in some promotional interviews designed to help push pay-per-view sales.

Lomachenko is 35 and suddenly seems a little different physically. He insists there have been no concessions to age, though.

"I feel like I can do the same things I always could," he said. "The only real change now is I need time to let my body recover. My body doesn't recover from hard [workouts] as quickly now as it used to. That's really it. Otherwise, I feel good about what I'm able to do in that ring."