At the end of a fight week in which interest from outside of the boxing bubble in Devin Haney-Vasyl Lomachenko was lower than such a high quality match-up deserved, the atmosphere at the full MGM Grand Garden Arena told the story of a 14,436-strong crowd that was fully invested in their undisputed lightweight title fight.
Junto Nakatani teed up the main event by, on the undercard in Las Vegas, knocking out Australia’s Andrew Moloney with a punch just like that from Manny Pacquiao that so memorably knocked out Ricky Hatton at the very same venue in 2009.
The retired David Haye, in Sin City with Chris Eubank Jr, who with Roy Jones Jr he is helping to prepare for his rematch with Liam Smith, confidently predicted victory for Haney, to ProBox TV, pre-fight, and was stopped by numerous fans asking for a photo, despite the fact that the only time he fought in the US came at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles when he was a little-known fighter.
Lou DiBella made his way to the media section to discuss the imminent main event. Like Haye, he expected Haney to win, but said that Haney shoving Lomachenko at Friday’s weigh-in had left a big impression on him and left him significantly less confident in the outcome. A DAZN representative in the same section of the arena could be overheard talking up the possibility of a fight between Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Edgar Berlanga, which regardless struck ProBox TV as unlikely.
The Mexican’s former promoter Oscar De La Hoya appeared on the big screen, and was booed so loudly that it was as though those in attendance had forgotten what a fine fighter he once was, and also that many of his biggest fights had happened not only in the same city, but the same venue. De La Hoya, not unlike Eddie Hearn when he was booed similarly, smiled at his reception but struggled to hide that he was hurt. Mark Wahlberg also appeared on the same screen, and was then cheered.
Shortly before the main event a ten count was observed for Jim Brown, the American footballer whose death at the age of 87 was announced on Friday. When Lomachenko then made his way to the ring he was loudly cheered like a local hero – which in many respects felt like the least he deserved, given that recognition of what a great fighter he once was, and in many ways remains, isn’t as widespread as it perhaps ought to be. Haney, a long-term resident of Vegas and the American fighting an eastern European, was booed even more loudly.
Every time Lomachenko let his hands go he was cheered; every time he landed with authority the crowd reacted; by comparison the reaction to Haney’s output was minimal. At the final bell few among the media had scored in favour of Haney, but there was a widespread recognition that the rounds had been difficult to score and therefore that the scores of 116-112, 115-113 and 115-113 perhaps weren’t unjust. The crowd, affronted by the scores, again booed; some voiced their objection to those among the media; one even shouted at ESPN’s Max Kellerman, while he was overseeing a live broadcast, to encourage him to tell what he perceived to be the truth. “It wasn’t even close,” he also shouted.
Shakur Stevenson, fresh from an exchange with Haney in the ring, post-fight, told ProBox TV on his way out of the arena that he had scored Lomachenko the winner by eight rounds to four. DiBella had scored a draw, but also recognised the difficulty involved in scoring so competitive a contest. Most significant, before the post-fight press conference, felt Top Rank’s Derrick Harmon, the amateur trainer who first recognised Haney’s significant promise and a friend of the Haney family, also telling ProBox TV that he had scored in favour of Lomachenko.
When ESPN broadcast, live, Lomachenko crying in his dressing room at the sense of injustice, it made the scoring feel particularly cruel. Similarly, after both fighters’ post-fight press conferences – Top Rank didn’t appear embarrassed by the scoring, which promoters often struggle to hide on the occasions judges really do get it wrong – everyone present dispersed to wherever they were next headed, with how cruel a place Vegas can be in their minds.