It’s been over a month since one of the most important bouts of 2023 took place. On May 20, Devin Haney (30-0, 15 KOs) and Vasiliy Lomachenko (17-3, 11 KOs) battled for the undisputed lightweight championship.
The fight surpassed the expectations of a majority of critics, being one of the best tactical and technical battles the sport has seen in the last few years. In a controversial and debatable finish, Haney escaped with a majority decision to keep his titles.
As is usually the norm in boxing, the judge's scorecards overshadowed the efforts of both Haney and Lomachenko. Specifically, Dave Moretti's 116-112 scorecard, where he somehow scored the 10th round for the younger champion – leaving many to demand the judge have to explain his scoring.
“I can live with the two scores, I guess, but not the 116-112,” stated renowned trainer and podcast host Teddy Atlas. “Someone told me that Dave Moretti gave the 10th round to Haney, if that's true, he should be brought in front of a commission to explain.”
Most of the initial reactions on social media veered in favor of Lomachenko, who arguably had the clearest rounds in a fight filled with tightly contested stanzas. Former and current fighters stated their opinions, such as Oscar De La Hoya, Regis Prograis, Sergio Mora, Yordenis Ugas, and Jamel Herring.
“That's no robbery,” said former IBF super middleweight titleholder Caleb Truax on Twitter.
“Those rounds were so close, and hard to score. I thought Loma did the better work. Good fight. Good fight for boxing.”
Now that the emotional back-and-forth debates have relatively ended, the reality is now setting in.
Haney, who is only in his mid-20s, has possibly seen his last days in the lightweight division. A rematch with Lomachenko is unlikely and a situation where despite Haney's bravado and trash talk about having wanted to fight the Ukrainian since 2019, he was fortunate that he didn't.
Should the undisputed champion decide to stay with promoter Top Rank, there are only two lucrative options for him, Shakur Stevenson or a rematch with Lomachenko.
Gervonta Davis holds a version of the WBA lightweight title and is now inarguably the most well-known in the division, he could be persuaded to stay and do a Loma fight, maybe.
With Teofimo Lopez recently retiring after his win over Josh Taylor to become the lineal junior welterweight champion and Taylor himself declaring a move up in weight, other options await Haney outside of Top Rank, specifically with WBC 140-pound titleholder Regis Prograis.
“[Haney] called me the other night,” Hearn said on The DAZN Boxing Show. “We had a great conversation. He wants to fight Regis Prograis. You know, it's a tremendous fight. He wants to move up to 140. He wants a belt.”
Lomachenko's reality: on the other hand, he has to move on with a blemish on his record. Not unlike Roman Gonzalez's defeat in the second bout with Juan Francisco Estrada, a large contingent of observers had him winning against Haney.
His performance indicated that he is still one of the sports elite practitioners. Not all losses are equal, and while the two-time Olympian would jump at the opportunity of another encounter with Haney, he isn't going to put his faith in only false hope.
“Haney understands his level,” Lomachenko told ESNEWS. “Now I think he'll go up to 140 pounds and fight just regular boxers. I think a rematch will never happen. It should, but it'll never happen because Devin Haney is scared, and he understands he lost the fight. He was talking about legacy before the fight. If you want a legacy, you need to make the rematch.”
Legacy is significant to a fighter like Lomachenko.
He is someone who wasted no time acclimating himself to the professional ranks and almost immediately going after world titles. His hopes of attaining undisputed status were thwarted at lightweight.
Still, Lomachenko and his team have consistently stated that the move to lightweight was not out of a physical necessity but out of a lack of available competition.
Now the junior lightweight division is open with four titleholders giving the former unified lightweight champion a chance to grab more titles at a weight he was more dominant.
Five years have passed since Lomachenko last laid claim as the best junior lightweight in the world.
For him, a move back down from lightweight isn't a guarantee that he will once again run rampant with a reign of terror; however, none of the current titleholders would be heavily favored over the two-time gold medalist.
On paper, the champion that could give Lomachenko the sternest challenge is recently crowned WBC champion O'Shaquie Foster (20-2, 11 KOs).
The super featherweight out of Houston isn't someone that Lomachenko can overlook or take anything but seriously. Foster has been the underdog in his most significant victories.
In 2018, he upset Spanish 5'10 power puncher Jon Fernandez for the silver WBC super featherweight title. Last year, in Dubai, Foster won a unanimous decision over Muhammadkhuja Yaqubov, scoring a knockdown in the 12th round to put a stamp on his victory.
Most recently, earlier this year, Foster won the vacant WBC 130-pound title against the then-undefeated two-division champion Rey Vargas in a mostly dominant fashion.
“I love the challenge,” Foster said to Premier Boxing Champions. “I love being the underdog, I suppose maybe it's because I've been the underdog my whole life.”
Foster, who has been boxing since the age of eight and was a decorated amateur, hasn't tasted defeat since 2016, riding a 10-fight winning streak.
Certainly, Foster would have to be considered a more than worthy adversary and challenge for Lomachenko.
Southpaw Dominican fighter Hector Luis Garcia (16-1, 10 KOs) had a standout year in 2022, gaining consideration for Fighter of the Year honors by many publications.
Garcia started the year with a commanding performance over Chris Colbert, where he knocked the Brooklyn fighter down in the seventh round en route to a wide unanimous decision.
At the time, Colbert was thought of as one of the top three fighters at junior lightweight, so the fashion in which Garcia won came as a surprise.
Not allowing the Colbert bout to be his only moment of 2022, Garcia would then win the WBA junior lightweight title from Venezuela's Roger Guitierrez in yet another stellar showing.
The two wins in 2022 put the two-time Pan American Games silver medalist on another stature, leading him to a title fight at lightweight against superstar Gervonta Davis. He fell short against Davis, losing in nine rounds, but still holds the WBA title at 130.
Garcia, much like Foster, is a fighter with an amateur background that is no stranger to the role of the underdog.
He would likely find himself in that same position as the champion against Lomachenko.
Junior lightweight has seen an abundance of upsets as of late, and that goes for fighters across the Atlantic as well.
Another common theme seems to be fighters who all have amateur backgrounds, and the United Kingdom's Joe Cordina (16-0, 9 KOs) is no exception.
Cordina, a European Championships gold medalist and 2016 Olympian, first made waves in 2022 when a right hand landed on the chin of Kenichi Ogawa in the second round earning him the IBF junior lightweight title.
Some unfortunate circumstances followed Cordina as he was stripped of the title after having to pull out of a mandatory defense against Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov due to a hand injury that required surgery.
Cardiff, Wales, could be considered Cordina's lucky place because when he finally stepped in the ring with Rakhimov in April of this year, he won a split decision highlighted by a second-round knockdown.
Cordina, just like Foster and Garcia, represents a similar problem for Lomachenko to solve. They are fighters who have upset the odds, and each has a technical acumen with an amateur background.
Lomachenko has shown that he is willing to travel to the United Kingdom to fight, as he did when he challenged Luke Campbell in 2019.
It's unlikely and unfair for Lomachenko to have to face all three in an era where two fights a year is the maximum and realistic occurrence for fighters to step into the ring.
A unification match between Foster and Cordina has been discussed, with the Houston fighter calling out Cordina on social media, but a fight has yet to materialize.
Foster is now a promotional free agent, and Cordina is with Eddie Hearn under the Matchroom Boxing banner.
According to Foster's manager Keith Mills, Cordina isn't interested in facing Foster.
“He fought April 22nd, we're in June already,” Mills said to Bad Left Hook earlier this month.
“We have received no phone calls from Joe's team. That's why we believe ‘Broadway Joe' is a great actor. Foster is the top fighter in the division. Joe knows Foster won't sit around and wait on him. That's Joe's entire plan, to wait Foster out.”
Should Lomachenko make his way back down the weight scale, the best fight for his wallet and the most straightforward fight to make from a promotional standpoint would be against the winner of the upcoming all-Mexico match between WBO champion Emanuel Navarrete (37-1, 31 KOs) and Oscar Valdez (31-1, 23 KOs).
A bout between the two has been anticipated for years as it's expected to deliver as one of the best fights of the year and give fans memories of the battles between Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales from a generation ago.
With both fighters under Top Rank, Lomachenko should be able to make a fight with either man regardless of who walks away with their hands raised.
Recently, the three-division titleholder, Navarrete, has shown signs of vulnerability.
In his previous match, against Liam Wilson, he was fortunate that he wasn't stopped in the fourth round after a knockdown.
Valdez last year was almost shut out by Shakur Stevenson, but a loss to Stevenson, who now campaigns at lightweight, isn't too damaging. The New Jersey fighter is considered one of the top fighters in the world pound-for-pound.
Lomachenko, who once held the WBO 130-pound title, making four defenses, may want the chance to regain his former championship.
Navarrete has one of the most unique styles in boxing as a lanky fighter that can fight from both the inside and outside while landing punches from awkward positions.
Valdez has the more traditional style and seems like the easier fight for Lomachenko on paper, but either man should put a smile on Bob Arum's face to step into a fight with the Ukrainian.
Lomachenko could choose to stay at lightweight.
He proved against Haney that a rematch or a fight with Stevenson aren't forgone conclusions.
And one couldn't fault Lomachenko if an unexpected fight with the division's most notable star, Gervonta Davis, was presented. A win over Davis, Stevenson, or Haney would trump Lomachenko moving back down and winning any titles at junior lightweight.
We are closer to the end than the beginning or middle of Lomachenko's career.
As a professional for almost a decade, Lomachenko has the experience, knowledge, and team behind him to guide him in the right direction.
In the end, knowledge is what you know, and Lomachenko knows that his time is running out.
Wisdom, on the other hand, is what you do with that knowledge.
Does Lomachenko and his team have the will, and the wisdom, to push him back down to junior lightweight? Before 2023 is over, we'll find out.