As Devin Haney staggered back to his corner at the end of the tenth round after getting hit with a flush right hand by Jorge Linares, he was in need of guidance. For the vast majority of the first ten rounds, he had Linares all figured out, boxing a complete masterclass but for one brief moment. Haney had experienced many things in his young 25-fight career, but being visibly hurt by a dangerous puncher with six minutes left in a fight was not one of them.
Haney sat on his stool, grinning defiantly as he looked up at a familiar face in his father Bill, and a new one in Ben Davison. In the build-up to the fight, there were rumors that Bill was going to “retire” as Devin’s trainer, or at least give his son the option to move on if he wanted to. Devin opted to stick with what had worked for him throughout his career, having his father lead the charge with a rotating cast of hired guns working alongside him. For this fight, it was Davison, who has become in vogue in the boxing community for his work with Tyson Fury during his remarkable comeback and more recently, 140-pound king Josh Taylor in his signature win over Jose Ramirez.
Davison’s calling card has been his scientific approach and calm, concise delivery of instructions in the corner. As evidenced by his handling of Fury both inside and out of the ring during their time together, Davison is particularly adept at keeping fighters’ emotions in check and conveying the safest, most effective approach when under duress. With Haney, he encountered precisely the moment he was brought in to handle.
It was one he foretold, too. In the corner following the first round, Davison praised Haney’s work but cautioned him to not punctuate his combinations with left hooks too often. In round ten, Haney found himself in an exchange, and found himself hurt. It was a teachable moment for a supremely gifted offensive fighter like Haney to not just learn how to handle being hurt, but to know when doing less—or nothing at all—is the best thing for him. Davison instructed Haney to throw single shots meant to get him to the inside and simply tie up Linares, hitting him in the ribs if an opportunity arose. Bill Haney followed those instructions with positive reinforcement, urging his son to “close the show.”
Haney found both the specific instruction and the boost of confidence he needed in a situation that could have been both perilous and confusing for him.
Much to the chagrin of the crowd in Las Vegas audience, Haney obeyed orders and spent at least two minutes doing nothing but finding ways to hold on to Linares. In the final minute, with the stability in his legs returning, he fired a few crisp shots to let Linares know he too was dangerous, and made it out of the round. Before the final round, Bill again played the role of emotional motivator as a father is best equipped to play, while Davison gave a single tactical instruction, “keep your right hand high if you’re going to throw,” cautioning him about Linares’ left hook.
With more than enough rounds in the bank, Haney played it safe, made it to the finish line and left with a unanimous decision win by scores of 115-113 and 116-112 twice to retain his WBC lightweight title and net the biggest win of his career.
It’s a career that he and his father have very much DIY’d, daring to veer from the conventional path of both promotion and mentorship in boxing. Though he was an amateur contemporary of stars like Ryan Garcia who almost immediately signed major promotional deals, Haney’s career began in Tijuana, Mexico at Billar El Perro Salado, a pool hall that housed low-level club shows. Bill would pay for his son to be on the card, opting to get his son victories that they could record and put on YouTube, while diversifying his experiences in the gym.
With a background in the music industry, Bill borrowed from the mindset of musicians, who work with various producers and collaborators to develop their sound over time. Rather than go down the agreed upon route in boxing—choose one trainer and stick with them—Devin would be polyvalent, learning from as many sources as possible.
Over the years, Haney has trained with Floyd Mayweather Sr., Mike McCallum, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, Virgil Hunter, Roy Jones Jr. and more. Each was brought in with a specific goal in mind—McCallum, for example, to help hone Haney’s body punching, which was on full display against Linares as he repeatedly jabbed downstairs as “The Body Snatcher” helped teach him. Haney never has a “falling out” with his trainers du jour, there’s never a breakup, only a graduation to the next apprenticeship.
“That's just our system, we've always had it,” Bill Haney said in 2019. “When Floyd (Mayweather Sr.) was away with his son at various fights, then we bring in Mike McCallum or Eddie Mustafa or someone like that. Those guys, honestly, they all have different styles but what they tell Devin is the truth. It's more about who Devin gels with as he gets older. So, we have a team of trainers and I'm the one that calls the plays in the corner.”
Bill called the right play by having Davison in the corner against Linares, and it’s entirely possible that his wisdom kept Devin out of danger in the final six minutes of the bout.
Devin himself seems to have an unquenchable thirst for information and advice, constantly seeking the input of those around him and studying other fighters for pieces of their game he can incorporate into his own repertoire. As outwardly confident as he is about his own abilities, he is equally outwardly curious about ways to improve.
"We've brought a lot of different guys in for pointers. I'm like a sponge, I like to learn from many different people. It could be an old veteran in the gym who's been in the gym his whole life, it could even be a little kid. I'm the type of guy that likes to learn from everybody. I would never turn down help from anybody,” Haney told Boxing Social during a fight week press junket.
Following the fight, Haney went to Linares’ dressing room to greet him—but for a greater purpose too. He had sparred Linares when he was a 17-year old kid and maintained great respect for him, a fighter regarded as one of the most gifted offensive operators of the last generation or so. After some brief pleasantries and introductions to one another’s families, Haney sensed an opportunity to learn. He asked Linares for his opinion of his jab and his power, particularly in comparison to Vasiliy Lomachenko’s.
“You have power. I like your jab, I just think you need to use more jab, jab, then two, jab, jab, then two. You were only using one jab,” said Linares. “Sometimes when I pressed you, you lost a bit of balance.”
Haney thanked him, then looked to extract even more information from Linares’ brother and trainer Carlos Linares. He asked “did I fight the fight they thought I would fight?” and chatted with him about their respective strategies, how they worked and didn’t work.
Haney’s victory will be touted as a great learning experience for him, and it was—but for Devin, there is never a time to not be learning, even seconds after a fight, and never a person not worth learning something from, even the man he just beat.