The three lightweight musketeers
We are truly spoilt with great lightweight champions and jockeying contenders in the division. This piece will take a look at the recent fights of Devin Haney, Teofimo Lopez, and Ryan Garcia to analyze their performances and come to a verdict as to who will reign supreme.
First up, Devin Haney against the experienced threat of Jorge Linares. Many commentators played down the risk of Linares, but the former champion knocked down Vasyl Lomachenko and was 4-0 against Matchroom fighters coming into the contest. Linares is a throwback to a bygone era of brawlers and sharpshooters with an exciting, come-forward style. However, Linares dictated the early rounds with his razor-accurate jab. In all honesty, Linares was made to look his age and struggled to keep up with Haney’s athletic pace. Haney’s defenses were strong as he was able to make Linares miss and in the early exchanges, Linares was limited to single shots. It’s tiresome to constantly draw parallels with young American fighters and Mayweather, but let’s just say Haney was very effective at landing shots and the checking out by creating distance from the counter-punching of Linares. He showed a bit of vulnerability in the 10th when Linares wobbled him but it’s important to remember that Linares is a lethal puncher and has troubled much more experienced opposition. Ultimately, Haney was able to ride the wave, albeit at one moment in a slightly obvious fashion at one point when he lunged into a clinch with Linares. Overall, it was an underrated performance from Haney as he dominated the tempo of proceedings with his jab and did well to overcome the late pressure from Linares.
Second up, Lopez against the Pound for Pound great, Lomachenko. A lot of people favored Loma because of his matrix-like skill set and his repeated success in making his opposition say ‘no más’. However, for the first 6 or 7 rounds, Loma was in third gear and struggling to cope with Lopez’s ring generalship. Lopez was able to pin Loma on the back foot and find room to land combinations at will. It’s difficult to point a finger on why Loma started so slow, but it seemed he was wary of Lopez’s power ability to secure early knockouts. Lopez threw punches in bunches whereas Loma seemed to be looking for single shots. In a sign that Loma had left behind his usual expert boxing, he was having success on the inside and roughing up Lopez in the 8th rounds, in spite of Lopez’s bigger size. Inside work isn’t normally a trademark of Loma’s upper echelon technical prowess, so it showed the sense of desperation and urgency that Lopez had engendered in Loma because of the clenched grip he had on the contest. There is an argument that Lopez didn’t have to do anything clever to unlock the key and win the early rounds. For what it’s worth, George Kambosos Jr will probably pose more problems than Loma did against Lopez, if the Kambosos Jr that beat Lee Selby turns up. Nonetheless, Lopez boxed with ease in the first 7 rounds and did enough to impress the judges. He was similarly as commanding as Haney against Linares in the first few phases of the fight but undoubtedly Loma is a better fight than Linares, so you have to give greater credit to Lopez for dictating proceedings when cross-comparing him and Haney.
Third up, Ryan Garcia came up against Luke Campbell who had also been in with both Linares and Loma. It was a step-up fight for Garcia, who had also been linked with Linares. The Venezuelan beat Campbell but it was a close contest and Haney unjustly discredited the threat posed by Campbell when evaluating his development with Garcia’s. Moving on to the flow of the fight, Garcia looked to have gained his man-strength, as he imposed his will on Campbell in the early stages. The knockdown Campbell inflicted on Garcia was a shock to his system and a sign of inexperience, as he didn’t read the incoming left hook. However, he recovered well from it and regained his composure quickly. He was landing combinations effectively but he could have got the jab going more. The rounds were more hotly contested than the first half of Haney Linares and Loma Lopez, but Garcia always had the upper hand. And like Haney against Linares, when Garcia had Campbell hurt, he didn’t ease his foot off the pedal and kept the momentum going. In the 6th round, Garcia rained in the left and right hooks and started using the jab more to create all-important distance to set up his power shots. In the end, it was a peach of a body shot from a pinpoint left hand that gave Garcia the win.
So whose most recent performance was the best? Garcia was the only one to get the knockout but he was also the only one to get knocked down. Haney and Lopez were both commanding for the majority of their fights, but Haney got rocked and Lopez didn’t. Lopez also took on the best fighter out of the three lightweight musketeers, and for both of those reasons, No Smoke Boxing ranks Lopez’s win the best.