Moments after his victory over JoJo Diaz on Saturday night, Devin Haney remarked that he had “learned a lot” from the fight. Generally, fighters don’t refer to bouts in their immediate aftermath as learning experiences unless they were losing efforts or didn’t particularly go as expected. Otherwise, fighters tend to view victories as validations of what they already knew about themselves and their opponents. 

But Haney’s documented insatiable appetite for information and improvement wasn’t satisfied even after feasting on a Top-10 lightweight and scoring an impressive unanimous decision victory at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Instead, he was already considering ways he could have done it better. 

Haney’s team is, for lack of a better term, executive produced by Bill Haney, Devin’s father. Bill is the lead trainer of record, but he is entirely deferential to a growing and rotating cast of aides whom he and Devin source to help them fight to fight. Over the last two bouts, their “secret weapon,” as they describe him, has been Ben Davison. 

Davison tells the story of the first time he saw Haney in the gym in person, demolishing a pair of sparring partners. As Davison describes it, Haney went to him after both sessions “looking for a way he could improve even one per cent.” Davison was astonished that a fighter would think that there was something to be improved upon or extracted from two utterly dominant sessions against overmatched foes, and it was then that he began believing that Haney was special, as an athlete and as a competitor. 

Haney’s approach to learning and training mirrors the evolutions in scouting and data collection in other sports. The Haney camp are devourers of film, and even employ noted boxing film study expert Lee Wylie, who rose to acclaim in online boxing circles in the early 2010s for his meticulous technical breakdown videos. Where other camps might see someone like Wylie as an outsider whose opinion shouldn’t be considered, Haney and others see him and his breakdowns as untapped resources that shouldn’t be left behind in the name of ego or antiquated boxing tradition. 

“I’m way too hard on myself. But I’m getting better. I’ll see my footwork off tape and go immediately at fixing it, or I’ll see something I don’t like and I’ll work on it the next day,” said Haney in a recent interview with RingTV.

When it comes to fighters already on the world level, the possibility that one could tangibly improve within a training camp is sometimes forgotten about. For established fighters, camp is generally talked about as a time when boxers get themselves physically ready to perform at their predetermined peak. Plenty is made about fighters being in good physical condition or a solid mental state, and strategic planning in camp is often discussed, but seldom do we talk about fighters actually improving over the course of a camp. Certainly fighters have different capabilities and sensibilities in the ring, and wholesale changes can’t often be made during an eight to twelve week period, but no fighter is ever a fully finished product.

In this regard, Haney occupies an interesting space as the youngest titleholder in boxing. He is accomplished enough to be discussed amongst the division’s best, but young enough to be talked about in the same manner as a developing prospect. Haney himself toes this line. He is of the belief that he is the best lightweight in the world, but also very open about the fact that he is a learning, developing fighter at the same time. 

That level of honesty is unusual amongst high level fighters, but is one shared by the man Haney is chasing at 135, new unified lightweight champion George Kambosos. Before his upset win over Teofimo Lopez, Kambosos said that he “got a little bit better each and every day” in his camps in Australia and Miami respectively. It was a tacit acknowledgment of what made people question his chances against Lopez in the first place, that the fighter who eked out a win over Lee Selby in all likelihood would not have been enough to unseat Lopez. But the version cultivated over a very lengthy camp brought about by a multitude of reschedulings was a markedly improved fighter. 

Haney’s potential for improvement, his fascination with it, and his openness to seek out new sources of information and guidance make him one of the most dangerous propositions in the sport for the foreseeable future. It’s entirely possibly that Haney could land a shot at the lineal lightweight crown (should Kambosos choose him as his next opponent), become undisputed champion in his next bout and still be nowhere near the peak of his powers. 

What would be a career crescendo for the vast majority of fighters could be merely the beginning for one of boxing’s most eager students.

“My dream is to be mentioned with the greats. The best to ever put on a pair of gloves,” said Haney during media availability prior to the Diaz bout. “I want my name to live on forever. That’s a long road. We’re taking it day by day, fight by fight, and one day we’ll get there.”

Corey Erdman is a boxing writer and commentator based in Toronto, ON, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman