LAS VEGAS — Jorge Linares was once where Devin Haney is now, one of the brightest prospects in the sport. That he’d become a world champion was a given; much more was expected of him than that.
He was fast, he was strong and he was an accurate puncher. He opened his career 27-0 and would go on to win championships in three weight classes.
On Saturday (8 p.m. ET, DAZN), he’ll meet Haney at Michelob Ultra Arena in a bout for Haney’s WBC lightweight championship. His career since that 27-0 start shows the danger of expecting too much of a young guy.
He’s been good since; at times, very good. He hasn’t become a superstar nor has he had a defining victory in his career. Perhaps it was a victory over Luke Campbell, or one back in 2010 over Rocky Juarez, or the featherweight title-winning effort in 2007 over Oscar Larios.
Haney’s combination of hand speed and timing has enabled him to overwhelm many an opponent. It’s why he has 15 knockouts among his 25 wins, however Linares won’t be overwhelmed by it. He has an idea of what he’s in for because he’s sparred with Haney, but he’s been around long enough that he’s seen everything there is to see.
He’s just never been the guy in any of the classes he’s fought in, and he’s certainly not going to be the guy at lightweight where, in addition to Haney, Teofimo Lopez, Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia also compete.
But Linares, despite being nearly a 10-1 underdog on Saturday, is good enough to win this bout if everything goes right. And he knows it and is confident things will. Promoter Eddie Hearn wanted a tough test for Haney and Linares insists he’s found one.
“It’s a big fight and a new challenge for me,” Linares said. “I have a lot of respect for Devin. He’s a young guy, a world champion, but on Saturday the respect goes, and I am ready for an amazing fight, and I hope he’s ready, too. He knows who he is fighting — a four-time world champion. I have a lot of experience and that’s the most important thing in this fight to win the fight. He doesn’t have that. He has talent, he has youth and hunger, and the belt.
“A fight with me is a different level. I can show so many styles, I’m naturally fast and strong, I don’t have a lot of KOs, but he knows I can punch. I think he will run all night, but I will be waiting for him, I will follow him. If he wants to fight inside, I am ready for him. He’s going to have big problems on Saturday night. He knows I can do everything, and he knows I have the timing to put him down.”
Haney knows all about timing. He’s got lightning quick hands, maybe faster than anyone this side of Gary Russell Jr., and yet he pooh-poohed that. The important thing to time is timing.
It’s setting up a shot and throwing it at the right time, not just using sheer blazing hand speed.
“Timing is the most important,” Haney said.
Haney’s combination of hand speed and timing has enabled him to overwhelm many an opponent. It’s why he has 15 knockouts among his 25 wins, however, Linares won’t be overwhelmed by it. He has an idea of what he’s in for because he’s sparred with Haney, but he’s been around long enough that he’s seen everything there is to see.
Linares knows how to win and that’s his biggest hope, that he’ll somehow figure a way to neutralize the many physical advantages Haney possesses and do something to impress the judges.
“I know his style,” Linares said. “I trained with him a long time ago in Vegas and we did some sparring. He was a baby then! But he’s a champion now and I hope he’s ready for a tough fight.”
A win would be the biggest in Linares’ career without doubt and would bolster his odds of being chosen for the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
When he looks at Haney across the ring Saturday, he’ll have flashbacks to the early days of his own career, when the hype and the potential suggested he’d be one of the sport’s special stars.
He hasn’t quite hit that level, but even at 35, he’s a hungry, talented and smart guy who knows the sport and what it takes to succeed.
“I don’t like to talk too much,” Linares said. “I don’t need to talk to get fans or followers or anything. I just need to go out and do my job and put on a great fight.”
If he does, he’ll remind those watching why he was so highly regarded years ago when Haney was just a toddler.
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