The extent to which Saturday’s fight between Devin Haney and Vasyl Lomachenko represents a clash of cultures was, unintentionally or otherwise, brought into focus throughout the course of Wednesday’s final press conference.
For the second day in succession Haney, the undisputed lightweight champion, mentioned Allah, and on Wednesday his father, trainer and manager Bill joined him in doing so. Lomachenko, for the second day in succession, mentioned god, and while at both the top table and when being interviewed wore a t-shirt that read “Bless the lord, Psalm 103”. The latter, on further inspection, includes the lines “Praise the lord… who satisfies your desires with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s”, which may well be what resonates with the 35-year-old fighting to become the undisputed champion and therefore fulfil the ambition he has held since turning professional. The Jewish Bob Arum, incidentally, sat between them throughout.
It was in 2013 when, aged 25, Lomachenko made his professional debut and defeated Jose Luis Ramirez, having concluded one of the finest of all amateur careers by winning two Olympic golds.
Haney, 24, resisted the temptation to pursue glory at the Olympics to instead turn professional at 17, and did so in Tijuana, Mexico, because he and Bill Haney believed he didn’t have a day to waste.
It was also notable that Lomachenko, so superbly crafted by the unique methods of his father and trainer Anatoly that include brain-training exercises – hip hop enthusiast Bill Haney’s methods were learned from, among others, Roy Jones Jr, Floyd Sr and Roger Mayweather – was again joined by only his manager Egis Klimas. Anatoly will work his son’s corner on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, but resisted joining Lomachenko and Klimas, who sat with the former champion as much to translate as to support him. Lomachenko has the air of a determined fighter not in need of support. Klimas even – and somewhat refreshingly – corrected himself from using traditional boxing parlance when saying “we’re ready” to instead stress that he meant that Lomachenko is ready for Saturday’s fight. For his part, Lomachenko sounded like a fighter relishing and anticipating a tactical battle.
Haney, by contrast – and perhaps naturally, given he is a long-term resident of Vegas – may only have been joined at the top table by his father but had numerous friends and family among the crowd who were vocal in their support.
The contrasts between the two fighters continued when they faced off and provided a reminder of the extent to which Haney is considerably bigger than his challenger – not that that discouraged the compere for ESPN and Top Rank from attempting to suggest that Saturday’s fight is likely to be a toe-to-toe battle and test of each fighter’s heart. A more accurate reflection of what could unfold likely exists in the ballroom next to the Grand Garden Arena, where in front of one of their fight posters Top Rank have placed a giant chess board and matching pieces.
Before Wednesday’s press conference concluded Haney, perhaps revealingly, went out of his way to speak of his appreciation for Top Rank during his short time with the influential promoters. His contract with them expires after Saturday’s fight, after which, in the event of the convincing victory widely predicted, he will be the world’s most valuable free agent, and yet he spoke – likely previously prompted to do so by his studious father – as though he was hoping to renew terms.