Devin Haney’s Claims at Two Weights Makes Him 2023’s Best

Boxing Scene

Promises are made to be broken.

Or in some cases never tested.

For example, I rarely play golf.

But if I was ever lucky enough to score a hole in one, I’ve vowed to pluck the ball out of the cup, slide the club into the bag and head straight to my car – because it couldn’t get any better.

Same goes for bowling.

I’m a decent enough bowler and have reeled off six straight strikes a few times, but If I ever managed to string together 12, I’d unlace my shoes, put down my beer and never set foot in another alley.

But I’ve never followed that advice in boxing.

Though my high watermark came 13 years ago when I predicted – on the eve of 2011 – that a then-unheralded Andre Ward would be that year’s best fighter, it hasn’t stopped me from trying to replicate the success a dozen times since.

To no one’s surprise, I’ve not been as prescient.

Which leaves me again to recap the crystal-ball claims I made last December when I was sure I knew precisely what would happen in 2023.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present Fitz’s Hits and Misses – Edition 13.

UPSET OF THE YEAR

The Pre-2023 Guess: Fulton SD 12 Inoue

The Post-2023 Reality: Parker UD 12 Wilder 

OK, the less said about my pick the better. I thought Fulton was better than he was. And I guess I wasn’t an Inoue believer (at 122) just yet. Suffice to say it won’t happen again where he’s concerned.

But as for upsets that did happen, there wasn’t a bigger one on a bigger stage than last Saturday.

Though plenty of smart folks suggested in advance that Joseph Parker would give Deontay Wilder issues, a precious few pulled the trigger on him winning the fight and scrubbing a duel of former heavyweight champs from the Saudi Arabian agenda.

He did. And he made it look easy. 

So go ahead and crown him.  

KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR

The Pre-2023 Guess: Wilder KO 5 Joyce

The Post-2023 Reality: Tellez KO 10 Navarro

Again…not even close. 

Though someone did KO Joyce in highlight fashion, it wasn’t my guy.

So, I’ll switch to a significantly lower profile fight, though one in which the fighter taking the shot was barely able to keep consciousness, let alone actually try to beat a count.

That was where unfortunate junior middleweight Livan Navarro found himself after being struck by a left hook by unbeaten Cuban prospect Yoenis Tellez with less than two minutes to go in their scheduled 10-rounder on the undercard of Jake Paul’s latest spotlight grab in Orlando, Florida.

Paul wound up with a finish of his own two fights later, but it wasn’t close to as impressive as Tellez’s subtle dip to the left as he fired the shot that connected solidly as Navarro flicked a jab, leaving the 16-fight veteran prone near his corner for several moments until he was revived. 

FIGHT OF THE YEAR

The Pre-2023 Guess: Davis KO 8 Garcia

The Post-2023 Reality: Nery KO 11 Hovhannisyan

Yeah, I’m going to take a little credit here.

Not only did Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia meet one another in 2023, they entertained. 

And the fight was a pretty good one. And I not only had the winner right, but I would have had the round, too, is “King Ry” would have hung on for a couple more minutes before surrendering.

But it’s not a partial-credit column. So full marks go to the instant classic at 122 pounds in February, when ex-bantamweight champ Luis Nery and former title challenger Azat Hovhannisyan punished one another for 10-plus rounds until the latter was finally stopped with 1:09 to go in the 11th.

Many were great. None were better.

FIGHTER OF THE YEAR

The Pre-2023 Guess: Tyson Fury

The Post-2023 Reality: Devin Haney

Once again…not so much on the pick 12 months ago,

Fury did fight twice and win twice but considering those wins were against Dillian Whyte and Francis Ngannou—and the Ngannou win was perilous at best—he doesn’t deserve the nod.

But there are plenty of guys who do.

Inoue could blow out of Tapales, and he’d have a case to make, just like Crawford and Canelo and even David Benavidez. For me, though, it’s about guys who changed their trajectories over 12 months, and it’s hard for me to argue that anyone did that more than Devin Haney and Teofimo Lopez.

Lopez wasn’t expected (by many) to win a second title against Josh Taylor, and though Haney was favored to beat Vasily Lomachenko and Regis Prograis, the fact that he did so within a year and across two weight classes tip my needle in his direction.

All hail “The Dream.” 

This week’s title-fight schedule:

TUESDAY

IBF/WBA/WBC/WBO junior featherweight/super bantamweight titles – Tokyo, Japan

Marlon Tapales (IBF/WBA/No. 2 Ring) vs. Naoya Inoue (WBC/WBO/No. 1 Ring) 

Tapales (37-3, 19 KO): First IBF/WBA title defense; Held WBO title at 118 (2015-16, one defense)

Inoue (25-0, 22 KO): First WBC/WBO title defense; Twenty title fights from 108 to 122 (20-0, 18 KO)

Fitzbitz says: More than a few people believe Inoue is the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter and they figure to get louder after what seems to be a walkover chance to unify another class. Inoue in 6 (99/1) 

SUNDAY

WBA super flyweight title – Tokyo, Japan

Kazuto Ioka (champion/No. 2 Ring) vs. Josber Perez (No. 6 WBA/Unranked Ring)

Ioka (30-2-1, 15 KO): First title defense; Twenty-five title fights from 105 to 115 (21-2-1, 10 KO) 

Perez (20-8, 18 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Lost only fights outside Venezuela (0-2, 0 KO)

Fitzbitz says: It’s a 12th New Year’s Eve appearance for the Japanese star, now 34, who’s won nine of the first 11 and looks good for No. 10 with a guy who may not belong on this level. Ioka by decision (99/1) 

Last week’s picks: 1-0 (WIN: Bivol)

2023 picks record: 44-17 (72.1 percent)

Overall picks record: 1,295-425 (75.2 percent)

NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body’s full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA “world championships” are only included if no “super champion” exists in the weight class.

Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.

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