Way back in 2019, I wrote about a potential classic rivalry brewing between two young talents and emerging stars, Devin Haney and Teofimo Lopez.
The 20-year-old Haney had just destroyed the previously unstopped Antonio Moran in seven rounds. A month prior, 21-year-old Teofimo Lopez bludgeoned Edis Tatli en route to a fifth-round KO.
The skill and natural talent of both young fighters, along with their personality profiles and a long history of animosity between the two, brought me to anticipate big things and even draw a very unpopular comparison to a legendary boxing rivalry of the past.
“Could Devin Haney vs. fellow top lightweight prospect, 21-year-old Teofimo Lopez, in three or four years’ time, be the new age Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Roberto Duran?” I wondered aloud over at the now-defunct Boxing.com.
“Purists and boxing’s old codgers will balk at the comparison, pointing out that Haney is no Sugar Ray and Lopez is no Duran—and that, most likely, they will never be as good as Sugar Ray and Duran. True. Okay. But, as the cliché goes, styles make fights, and Haney-Lopez, like Leonard-Duran, bring the speed-power vs. power-speed matchup dynamic. Both fighters burn bright with confidence in their respective styles, but can also reach outside themselves to bring something extra—Lopez, the fearsome all-attack power puncher can box and Haney, as we just saw, can punch.
“The Brooklyn-born and raised Lopez is Duran-arrogant. Angrily dismissive to opponents, he fights as though a challenge to his ring dominance is a personal insult. He taunts laid-out foes and sneers self-aggrandizing claims to media.
“Haney, on the other hand, is smooth and behaves like the well-groomed amateur prospect that he was. He prefers to showcase his speed and reflexes, but he can also really fight when he chooses to let things go.”
At the time, the two future unified lightweight champions already had a significant history, stemming from a pair of sparring sessions that both dispute were victories for themselves..
“I hit him with a hook, I hurt him,” Lopez told Boxingego in a video interview, referring to the first of the sparring sessions between the two. “Then I started throwing hella combinations. He just closes up…he’s just taking a beating…Beam, Beam, Beam, Beam…30 seconds go and I’m still hitting him…Devin doesn’t give me work at all. It was not work because he’s sticking and just running…that’s all he was doing. He was so scared to throw right hooks, left hooks with me because every time he did, I would catch him and I would hit him. I was chasing him the whole time…The kid was depressed [after the sparring session].”
Haney, of course, has a different version of events.
“When I sparred him,” Haney told Fighthype.com. “I didn’t know he was getting this kind of exposure…it was just like another guy. He didn’t show me anything, like, special…It wasn’t competitive. He didn’t hit me, he couldn’t hit me.”
A lot has happened since these two young talents beefed over who won their sparring sessions. Both had legit breakthrough victories. Both captured world titles. Both became unified champions at 135 lbs. (Lopez held the WBA/WBO/IBF titles before being upset by George Kambosos Jr. Haney then beat Kambosos to add the three belts to his own WBC strap). But the one thing they haven’t done is fight one another.
As I also opined in my 2019 piece:
“Haney-Lopez is a no-brainer and it’s one, because of their young age and some solid opposition available to both, where one doesn’t mind a bit of ‘marinade.’”
The time to spring this classic rivalry upon the world is soon, if not now. December 10, Lopez will be facing Sandor Martin, who upset Mikey Garcia back in October of 2021. Haney, meanwhile, is mulling over possible next opponents.
The biggest obstacle to Haney-Lopez is the same one that would’ve kept it from happening in 2019, 2020, and 2021– business.
With conflicting promotional and network deals in place, coming to terms for a fight like this would be exceedingly difficult, if not currently impossible. Would the possible revenue generated be enough to justify the risk of facing one another? Would the competing networks and promotional companies get enough money to book what could possibly be a major loss for one their big investments?
Knowing the business as I do, all roads lead to a big, fat “no,” at least not for the foreseeable future. What I wrote in 2019 stands for what the truth is in 2022-2023:
“In three-to-four years, will there be more of a spirit of cooperation between broadcast/streaming rivals? We’d all like to think ‘yes,’ but the answer is probably ‘no.’
“Devin Haney and Teofimo Lopez could be the new Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran. Both young men have everything needed to be transcendent ring stars, except, of course, the right boxing business environment.”