When we think of boxing of boxing in the United States often it is thought of as a niche sport. Outside of the huge names like Gervonta Davis, Canelo Alvarez, or Tyson Fury - boxing fills a necessary void for those who love it. That bond between a fan and an athlete can create a connection that transcends a person's life.
We see it all the time as figures outside of sports often cite a pro athlete as inspiration for their journey to success in other endeavors.
As announced last week, Devin Haney will return home to the place where he was born, San Francisco, California, as he looks to continue to make history when he faces the WBC junior welterweight champion, Regis Prograis, who is considered one of, if not the best junior welterweight in the world. Though Haney is currently the undisputed lightweight world champion, he has found himself in a Rodney Dangerfield position of not getting respect, as despite Shakur Stevenson and Gervonta Davis not having the actual world titles, a large group of pundits have ranked them over Haney, or at least perceived it that way.
Haney is seen as a finesse fighter given that in his biggest fights, he has shown his ability to outthink his opponents more than overwhelm them and stop them. Yet, despite not fighting like Marvin Hagler, Haney is looking to channel elements of Hagler’s rise to fame for his homecoming.
For those unaware, Marvin Hagler is one of the greatest middleweights ever, who was a big puncher and a brilliant boxer, after being on the burnt of industry politics, Hagler decided to ‘go for the KO’ to take the political nature of boxing out of the sport. Though Haney might not have that aspect of Hagler, he does have a few elements that are similar - mostly he is looking to become the voice and fighting spirit of a region looking for someone to back since the retirement of Andre Ward.
Hagler became Boston’s fifth sports team right up there with the Red Sox, Bruins, Celtics, and Patriots. When he fought Boston watched. Now, Haney to have a successful event needs to become the next sports team of the Bay Area, something that the whole region takes pride in, and though he will not always fight in the Bay Area, when he does he needs to embody the fighting pride of a confusing city. To be fair, the Oakland A's are leaving the Bay Area after this year so that void could be filled rather quickly with the right performance.
Haney has no easy task as Prograis, the world champion, is also largely disrespected as despite being the world champion entering the fight. Prograis is fighting in Haney's home region, though Haney now resides in Las Vegas, and has for some time. Prograis is coming in with a chip on his shoulder, and a point to prove, and one of the best boxing trainers in the business, Bobby Benton, guiding his journey.
Haney is armed with a loving father, Bill Haney, who serves as not just Haney’s mouthpiece, but overseas his training camps as a film director more than a traditional boxing trainer. Haney oversees the camp details not unlike Martin Scorsese did with Goodfellas, but will bring in notable trainers or even people for the growth and maturation of Haney. Bill Haney trains Devin, but more than anything it seems his magic as trainer/manager/father is that he knows how to put Devin in the right position to excel at all times.
Now the big question that no one has asked yet…will the Bay Area take to Devin Haney in the first major fight in the region? His last fight was an amateur bout on a Karim Mayfield-promoted pro boxing event in San Francisco, California nearly a decade ago. The result is needed - Haney needs to win to keep his momentum going, but more so, for him to leverage the future of his career, he needs a region to take to him, to cheer for him like they cheer the San Francisco Forty-Niners, the Golden State Warriors, and San Francisco Giants.
This is the fight of Haney’s life but is also an audition for mega-stardom. If Haney is going to go to the next level this is the moment in which other pro athletes in the region look at him as his peer.
Some might see this as a good fight, and some might question why it is on pay-per-view, but the more telling thing to watch for is how the national and local media embrace Haney and his stardom in the build-up to this event.
If or when he is embraced, we might see something that we haven’t seen in decades in Northern California. A finically fruitful region with a fight-rich history looking to stoically back a fighter with ties to their region.
This is Haney’s moment to prove he is who he says he is - a star.