A wild ride with boxing star Devin Haney: 'In the end, I will be No. 1'

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In a flash, and through a bevy of bezels and gold, there he appeared. His fans call him “The Dream” these days. Which, wouldn’t you if you saw Money Mayweather’s finest disciple dazzle to a defining 30-0 record? But, as we cruise around Westwood, wind in our hair, tires screeching without wear, the young money man shines. As he constantly reminds me, Devin Haney is one of a kind. OK, how’s Hollywood Haney, instead, Dev? Ya know, given the backdrop and all? Shame he can’t hear me. That howling roar from the engine of his Lamborghini Aventador — lookin’ swimming draped in the best baby blue bands can buy — muffled any surrounding noise.

That’s the way Haney prefers it these days. No matter what it may seem to those on the outside. He’s a man with a plan, lucrative and grand and he surely doesn’t give a damn if you agree.

So far, he’s made the impossible happen through boxing, and boxing alone. After dropping out of school at 13 years old, he had no other choice. Empowered and influenced by his father’s street-science, he hopped the border by 17, turned pro in Mexico and fought for scraps in small bars in Tijuana that looked more like the Salty Spitoon than a ring for refuge.

Since then, he’s been nothing short of one of boxing’s wunderkinds; at 24 years old, as he’s quicker than his jab to point out, he’s got all the belts, all the fame and all the attention any other boxer his age could imagine.

And, hate him or love him, Devin Haney ain’t tellin’ nothin but the truth.

“I’m nothing without Allah. I’m in this position because of my faith,” he tells me, whippin’ onto Wilshire Avenue. “The hardest part about boxing is the weight cut. The dieting, the starving, all of that. A lot of people don’t realize, it’s the thing that makes boxing [difficult.] Fighting, training and all that s—? That’s the fun part,” he admits. “That’s what we enjoy. … Boxing is something I truly love to do. I don’t feel like this is a job, because I was doing it for free for so long.”

More than anyone in his era of new-age fighters, Haney gleams in the spoils of war. The big cars and bigger grillz, the curated image he maintains — both loud and private — has made him a target of everyone not maintaining the throne. The way he sees it: everybody says they want to fight Devin Haney, but no one wants to step in the ring when the moment comes.

The hate can sometimes be overwhelming, as can the business. Every big act in boxing can likely say the same. And in those moments, Haney rides to California to find a momentary calm. To duck low, get a good meal, do a bit of shopping and disappear for a few seconds of a glamorous life. Home these days is Vegas, his family and base of operations remains in the desert. But, he keeps a tidy condo on the Westside, and some mornings can be seen dashing around the blue oval on UCLA’s track, or darting up the Culver City Stairs in the middle of the night after a few plates of hibachi, feeling an emulous urge to be great.

Each time I’ve seen him this year, Haney appears more substantially built. Looking more bunyip than boxer. It is possible he’s no longer the boy we’ve long thought him to be. The prodigy America watched rise to be the youngest undisputed world champion ever, who rose off the canvas to finish Jorge Linares, went into the dragon’s den, twice, in Australia and derailed George Kambosas’ career and most recently survived a late onslaught from the Ukrainian war veteran Vasiliy Lomachenko, says he can no longer cut it at lightweight anymore.

“I’ve been at 135 since I was 16 years old. It was hard for me to make weight,” he says. “You can see,” Haney nudges, glancing back and forth between his biceps. “I’m a big guy. I want to build out my body and really, finally be at my best. I want to focus on recovering during this camp and take some days off to let my body heal up.” He said in some fights he was cutting over 30 pounds, abusing steaming baths and saunas to strip everything off his bones. “When I’m making 135, I have to work out every single day, two to three times a day. I can’t ever let my body rest, and going into the fight I feel depleted.”

His first fight at 140 pounds against Regis Prograis is on Saturday night back where his life started in northern California. His father, Bill, was a hustler out in Oakland before Devin was born. Bill went down for 40 months for moving coke. And after an extended education at Lompoc penitentiary some time in 1992, Bill figured his family needed better from him. When Devin came to the world in 1998, Bill bounced to Vegas, where Devin eventually ascended to super stardom.

Yet, until now, Devin speaks like he’s unfulfilled. He says what he’s been searching for is still on the horizon. Something he can only grasp himself.

With the new weight comes new challenges: a belt is on the line against Prograis, and so is a homecoming fight in front of the region that gave him a reason to keep fighting. And though he’s not looking past Prograis, he does have his eyes toward the stars. Two in particular.

“There’s some big fights at 140: Ryan Garcia is at 140 now. Teofimo Lopez is in the division,” he says. “All the guys at 135 are gonna end up at 140 eventually. We’ve all been around the same weight since we were kids. We’re all gonna meet up here, at 147 or even 154 pounds.”

Outside of his family, and the few folks he keeps close to him, Devin rides alone. He figures at this age, he can no longer breathe life into what any of his detractors say. He has to adopt tunnel vision, and only pay attention to the plan his team has developed. He will beat whoever is in front of him, and in between won’t acknowledge the noise unless he chooses. “I do this for me,” he says.

“I’ve worked hard, I’ve worked my ass off since I was 7 years old. I’ve dedicated everything of myself to the sport of boxing. I didn’t go to school, I dropped out in the seventh grade to be here. I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I trusted in myself. It is no accident that I am right here,” he roars in his familiar staccato.

“I sacrificed everything to be in this position. And, I’m not even in my prime yet.”

Before Devin was so famous he was on the end of bars from Lil Yachty and flossin’ with six carat diamond earrings so big he nervously laughed thinking of the price, he was like any other delusional dreamer. All he had was an idea of himself. His father was running schemes, left and right, to try and turn his boy into a star. All Devin had to do was keep fighting. Keep workin’ that jab. Roughin’ that leather. And remember why he walked into the gym, every day, whether he wanted to, or he was forced to. “All of this is therapeutic to me,” he says. “When I go into a boxing gym, I feel like a kid in a candy store.”

That mentality wasn’t always there, but the best blades don’t get sharpened in cozy quarters. They must get struck, bent, broken and shoved into the flames to mold the boy into a man, the dullard into a dagger. As Devin became a fighter, Bill honed himself into a trainer with whatever scraps he could. He opened a boxing gym in the heart of The Strip.

But, eventually, Bill had to tell Devin that he would need to separate from him.

“I wanted him to have an imagination that he can be whatever he wanted to be,” Bill told me. “I don’t want him to feel like, based on where we growing up in Oakland, that sometimes you get a ceiling of opportunity. You don’t see where you can be things like the No. 1 boxer in the world and look at it as a career. Look at fighting as a career. When we moved to Las Vegas, I got a chance to tell Devin one day: ‘Don’t pay attention to dad. As much as dad can be your hero, look past what I became and look to what you can become.’” One person he told Devin to aspire to be? Floyd Mayweather. “I told him to take a look at Floyd,” Bill said, eventually mimicking Floyd enough that one of Devin’s early nicknames was “New Money.” “‘Keep your eyes on him and pay attention.’ I told him he can be like that.”

So when Devin was just stretching his legs into his teens, Bill took him out of school. He shut the gym down and took Devin on the road, leaving his life in Vegas behind in search of better work for his prodigiously talented boy. Devin couldn’t only fight guys in Vegas. And in search of better competition, Bill took him on the road, in a van that would double as his home and schoolhouse.

After eating up the amateurs with a 138-8 record, the Haneys decided to take another leap. The family started using guerrilla tactics on the internet to make Devin a household name. As they were getting bigger in the world of boxing, people all over the country, hell, maybe even the world were watching RealDevinHaneyTV on YouTube, seeing skinny Haney, laced with braces and 360 waves, going anywhere from sparring sessions — unheard of at the time to reveal that level of behind the scenes footage — to club appearances. By the time they jumped the border and Devin turned pro in Tijuana at 17 years young, all with Money Mayweather’s blessing, you could see him lighting up local competition in high definition.

Unable to get a pro boxing license because of his age, the pool halls and kegs of El Perro Salado, “The Salty Dog,” was where he’d be bred, or beaten, into a champion. Bill walked $50 worth of crumpled up pesos to a landlord for them to have a home base in a stuffy manager’s room above the main floor. No changing room.

At home in the states, all we could do was gawk. Somehow, we were getting a show. Haney was walking out to Drake and Future songs, wearing furry robes and doing walk out entrances to boos while his father shouted instructions from the ropes. His first fight lasted 35 seconds. His second was barely twice as long.

“We went out there and handled the business,” Bill said. “What was so instrumental were all the boos they were givin’ us. I told Devin one day, ‘Dev, can you understand it? Can you hear what they sayin’?’ He said, no, because we don’t speak Spanish. Neither one of us speak Spanish. So I told him, ‘Come on, man. Let’s just rock!’” And in no time, they got used to living a life under fire. “We started using that s— as fuel,” Bill said. “We used it in Australia, we used it against … Lomachenko, and every fight in Mexico, it built up to this. And after the fans got to booing, after the fight they came and thanked us. They thanked us for giving their hometown fighters a shot.”

Despite how well he did abroad, every victor must survive the incoming hail of stones. His fights in Mexico weren’t against real contenders, the critics said, he just went down there to dust up a few bums. When he rose to become the WBC’s champion, he was written off as a busted pup who had never beaten anyone worth their salt.

“Me coming up in the game so long, turning pro at 17 years old, having to do all of those things as a kid who was still trying to balance out,” Devin tells me. He sighs. “Being a teenage professional athlete was tough,” he says.

“I didn’t get paid. I didn’t really get paid until my 19th fight. Before that? I was fighting for crumbs. I had 11 fights in Mexico and I didn’t make a dollar.”

“But, I always trusted the vision,” Devin continued. “I knew it would pay off one day.”

During one autumn evening of ring work, Devin was working one of his trainers into some trouble. The boy was all about his craft, which was typical of the fight camp he set up on Business Lane down an isolated alley in the heart of Las Vegas at Top Rank’s famed brawl house. At one point in the night, the lights almost went out from the electricity sparking from Devin’s gloves.

Devin’s philosophy on boxing is simple: hit and don’t get hit. Slip and don’t get slept. Move and don’t get mushed. What else are we taught when we first walk into the dojo of the demented? Stick and move, son. Get into a groove, son. Don’t get bruised, son. That was the name of the game, the simple commandment many adhere to no matter which age you stick on the mitts. Though half his wins are by knockout, one of the consistent gripes about his game — by peers and the sport’s commentators — was that Devin lacked the punching power needed for pro boxing.

Of course, Bill tells me, this was a brilliant coincidence. They said the same about Mayweather in his prime. Pillow Hands, for Haney. Brittle Hands, for Floyd. They’ve both tried to put the jeers behind them. Devin was still 30-0, after all — hate comes for all the greats whether he liked it or not. And, regardless of how we may feel watching Devin scrap … he won, didn’t he?

The duo have clearly been working on something. Devin looked far from the days where his cheeks were bone thin at weigh-ins and he befitted the stare of the undead. His back is much more expanded as he walks around the room, he’s beefy around the ribs. His thighs have a striking resemblance to tree trunks.

Devin told me he wanted to be more accountable this year. His 25th year brought with it deep reflection about the only person to him who mattered — really. The only person who actually steps in the ring. He says he wants to focus on walking on his own, to shape his identity — with his own hands — as a young man on the rise.

“I consider myself very business savvy,” he told me. “I’m one of the very few guys who’s their own promoter. And I’m setting it up strategically where I’m gonna be one of the guys doing it differently. … Boxing is one part — fighting in the ring. But, the business part is something I want to truly master. That’s what I want to do different. A lot of guys get paid in the ring, but that’s not sustainable.”

Some of the smaller insecurities every great champion has faced — the nastiness and jealousy of your peers, the seesaw of adulation and disrespect from fans — Devin can’t currently unsee. Any fighter can use neglect as fuel to motivate them when they get in the ring. But sometimes it feels like Devin dons it as a mask. Willing to go to that dark place to find greatness, unlike the young fighters around him, he says. Of course he wants the money, and, like any man would, he delights in the spoils of fame. But, hidden between the golden desires he preaches, all Devin Haney wants, truly, is to achieve mastery of his sport. Anything below that, would be a betrayal of the path he’s blazed alone.

“Of course I was to be active,” Devin tells me. “I want to fight the best fighters in the world and make the biggest fights happen. I’m young and I’m young in the sport. I want to have longevity in the sport, as well. I want those fights to happen while I’m fresh and motivated.

“There’s a lot of cappin’ goin’ on in this sport of boxing. People say they want to fight, but they don’t really want to fight. People act like they sendin’ contracts, but they never sendin’ contracts. It’s a lot of clown stuff goin’ on in this sport that people should be able to see it.”

Devin’s usual answer to the questions of his critics, particularly the ones claiming he’s ducking big fights, like young talent Shakur Stevenson, is singular: he got here by doing what no one else was willing to do. George Kambosos, who recently held the belts at lightweight before Devin beat him twice in four months in Australia, didn’t make it easy. He told Devin, “you got 24 hours to sign” for a 22% purse.

“He said I had to fight him twice, come over to Australia not once, but twice, that I had to sign to his promoter and that it was a [fixed] number. That was it. That was the number. I didn’t negotiate. I didn’t get a dollar more, nothing more. I didn’t get to say fight me here or there, I get to walk first or second, nothing. I was a champion, too. I didn’t get a chance to say none of that,” he says. “I took it, I bet on myself and that’s how I got in this position. It’s only right that somebody who wants to be in my position, go through the same thing I went through. You gotta go through the fire to get there. It’s not just that I’m a champion, I’m the undisputed champion. I’m the guy with everything. No one handed me a belt. I’m the guy with everything. When I had one belt, I couldn’t call no shots. A guy like Shakur Stevenson has nothing. No belts.”

With big fights back in the American conversation and the most eyes back on the sport than there has been in a generation, the moment is shrinking for fighters to capitalize on the excitement. Stevenson and Devin — like Devin and many fighters of the moment — have gone back and forth about stepping in the ring.

This summer, Stevenson even bragged that Devin was running from offers he put on the table. He went so far as posting videos on the internet showing Devin, cornered in a Houston club, being sent glowing signs from bottle girls that read “Sign The Contract” in lights while Stevenson laughed from the other side of the room.

“So, Shakur gave me an offer for 45%,” Devin countered. “And, that’s when we went back and said 25%. That was the minimum and the maximum. I sent him the offer. He countered back with 50%.” A bit of discomfort comes across Devin’s face. “That’s something I’ll never understand,” he said. “That’s where the pump faking comes in. These guys don’t really wanna fight. They want clout. When he sent me that sign in the club.” Devin shakes his head. “What contract? There was never no contract!”

Bill also felt like there was nothing on the table. That nothing fell apart because there was nothing concrete in the first place. “We knew [Shakur] didn’t wanna fight,” Bill told me. “So when the infamous bottles got sent and there was no contract, I called Top Rank and I asked them what was going on with this s— with Shakur.” Shakur posted that he wasn’t willing to take a 25% purse split while Devin received 75% of it, even though Devin was the undisputed, four-belt champion of the world.

Another slight the Haneys took as disrespect.

“I just know that these boxing [guys] are clowns. They are like,” Devin grimaces, almost like he was fighting himself from saying the truth. “They want clout. They don’t really care about legacy, like me. They’re not the type of fighter that I am. They want clout. They want attention. They want followers. That’s the difference between me and them, I really trusted in my talent, trusted in my skills because I knew that I was great. I knew that I wanted to be great. These guys are jealous and envious of something I worked hard for. I went through the fire to get here.”

Bill said, “25% was way more than what [he] … shoulda got.” And that’s when he concluded that Stevenson, “don’t even want the m— fight. But, you trying to play the people into believing that s—. … If you thought you could have beat [Devin], it didn’t have to be the perfect deal. You were looking for the perfect deal and the perfect opportunity.”

Devin’s bark is indicative of the endless hours working at self-mastery. At 30-0, on the verge of capturing titles in two different weight classes, the hope for him is that he is seen as one of boxing’s divine wonders.

If we were paying attention, he’s beating these guys not only with finesse but in indistinguishable ways in terms of damage given compared to received. Right now, there is no one in the sport quite like the Haneys. And, as long as he stays this self-determined, there will likely never be a dream bigger than Devin’s.

“I’m constantly showing my versatility and my God-given talent,” Devin says. “And each fight I’m getting better. I’m telling you, the world will see.

“In the end, I will be No. 1”

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