Darkness is falling and, on the other side of Interstate 15, which runs through the desert towards Los Angeles in one direction and to Salt Lake City in the other, the neon of the Strip is glowing brightly and blazing new worlds dance across the surface of the Sphere.
On this side of the freeway, just off Dean Martin Drive, there is a small side road where everything feels quiet. Inside one of the nondescript units on an industrial estate, Devin Haney is finishing another gruelling training session as he prepares for the next test of his young life.
Haney is still only 24 but he is on every respected list of the top 10 pound-for-pound fighters in the world. He was a boxing prodigy and wherever he went, his friends said people used to watch him box and say ‘who’s that kid?’. The response was always: ‘That’s Devin Haney from Vegas.’
Haney is part of an inspirational partnership with his father and trainer, Bill, who served time for drugs offences in his youth and then devoted himself to ensuring that Devin did not follow the same path.
The family moved from Oakland to Vegas, where Bill set up a boxing gym when he realised Devin had a special talent. ‘My dad has been everything,’ Haney says. ‘I wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for my dad.’
Devin Haney may be just 24, but he’s a prodigy who has caught people’s eye since childhood
The Las Vegas native was the first lightweight man to hold all four belts of the four-belt era
Haney’s demolition of Vasiliy Lomachenko has inspired the fighter to move up a division
Haney won his first world title when he was 21. Until he gave one of the belts up recently, he was the undisputed lightweight world champion, the first man to hold all the titles at the weight in the four-belt era.
This year, he defeated the great Vasiliy Lomachenko in a classic fight at the MGM Grand to retain his titles with a unanimous points decision.
Now, he faces the next big test of his career as he moves up to light welterweight to fight Regis Prograis for the WBC world title on December 9 in San Francisco where he will try to become a two-weight world champion, the latest step towards his goal of becoming recognised as one of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport.
He objects straight away when I mention that his lightweight belts have gone now that he has moved up into the 140lb class. ‘No, no, no, no,’ he says. ‘The belts aren’t gone. I am still champion of the 135lb division. I still hold the WBA, IBF and WBO belts so they’re not gone.
‘One belt is gone but I still have the others. They will be gone. When I decide they’ll be gone, then they’ll be gone but, as of right now, I worked hard to get them so I don’t want to give them up just for fun. Eventually they’ll be gone, but right now, I’ve got them.’
Haney is engaging company, thoughtful, assertive, dismissive of rivals, respectful to the greats of the past, a student of the sport and a man supremely confident in his own ability without appearing arrogant. He knows that the fight against Prograis represents the gateway to a new chapter.
He also knows there are plenty of people in the sport who want him to lose. Rivals are envious of what he has.
The fighter spoke to Mail Sport’s Oliver Holt in the spartan changing room at his boxing gym
Haney’s primary concern is staying focused as he works towards becoming one of the greatest boxers of all time
Both Stevenson and Gervonta Davis, the other standout fighter in the lightweight division have taken to criticising Haney on social media. Others try to goad him about a style that they say may be technically bewitching but which lacks the explosive power possessed by others.
‘Of course, I got haters,’ Haney says as he sits in a spartan changing room at his gym, a row of lockers the only adornment. ‘But just like you got fans, you got haters. That comes with whatever you do. That’s life. Not everybody’s going to love you. What can you do about it?
‘I just got to keep doing what I am doing, staying focussed. I don’t get too hung up on what they say because they’re always going to say something. I am turning some of the haters into believers and some of the believers into haters so it is what it is.
‘They are going to hate regardless. If I was going in there knocking people out with one punch every fight, they would say I was knocking them out because I couldn’t box. If I was going in and boxing circles around them, they would say I was boxing them because I couldn’t punch.
‘So I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t. I don’t fight the same way. I beat every fighter differently. Come December 9, the world will see another way with how I pick Regis Prograis apart.
I mention to Haney that Stevenson, who rejected an offer to fight Haney because it would have given him 25 per cent of the purse, has been saying Haney parties too much, that he is not as dedicated to the sport as Stevenson is and that Haney has sought to avoid fighting him. A slow smile spreads across Haney’s face.
Shakur Stevenson goaded Haney and claimed that he’s afraid to face him, often criticising him on social media
‘I don’t really know what Stevenson does or doesn’t do,’ he says. ‘I don’t really watch him or pay attention to him. But kudos to him. I couldn’t care less about what he does or doesn’t do. I am focussed on me, being the best me I can possibly be.
I am in competition with myself right now. This fight is bigger than Regis Prograis or anybody else. You will be trying to outdo an opponent and you won’t go to your fullest potential but when you are trying to outdo yourself, you can never lose doing it like that. Trying to improve, always get better.
‘Stevenson wants to build buzz off my name and get some attention off my name. That’s the only time that people pay attention to him is when he mentions me. I understand it. I dreamed of being in this position so now that I am here, it is no surprise. My focus is showing my best skills on December 9 and making a statement.
‘I am a challenger again. I have got that hunger and that drive to take it from the champion. I am still young. This is still the beginning for me. I want to be an all-time great in the sport. I want my name to be remembered for ever.’