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Gordon: Unbothered by boos, Devin Haney wants undisputed glory

Maybe the boos would actually bother Devin Haney. If he hadn’t been booed on a regular basis since he was 16.

Maybe fighting abroad would actually intimidate him. If 10 of his first 15 professional fights weren’t in Tijuana, Mexico.

Maybe nothing can bother the 23-year-old WBC lightweight champion. Not unified lightweight champion George Kambosos Jr. Nor the 16-hour flight to his Kambosos’ native Australia. Nor tens of thousands of his supporters at Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium.

We’ll know Saturday night.

“Wherever the ring is, that’s my home,” Haney said. “When I get to Australia, I will make the ring my home. It’ll be me and him in there. And I’ll take over the fight no matter what.”

Haney is the embodiment of his nickname “The Dream,” living exactly that at the age of 23. He can become the youngest undisputed champion in boxing’s four-belt era Saturday — should he defeat his 28-year-old Australian counterpart in his backyard.

It’s a lofty conquest for Haney (27-0, 15 knockouts), a Bay Area born Las Vegan long destined for superstardom. But he has the requisite tools to subdue the brash WBA, WBO and IBF champion: a sharp scoring jab, deft footwork and most importantly the undying confidence — and willingness — to chase greatness amid unfavorable circumstances.

“It’s history. My name will be in the history books forever — and it’ll be everything for my career,” Haney said. “It’ll make me a superstar in the sport of boxing today.

“That’s why I work so hard. Dedicated. Focused. Because it’s close.”

From ballrooms and pool halls

Haney would commute by car from Las Vegas to Tijuana, driving more than six hours to fight at pool halls, ballrooms and bars. Archival footage of an adolescent Haney exists on YouTube, documenting the humble beginnings of his dream — and the adversity he’s now accustomed to braving.

“I was so nervous because I was in a place that I knew nothing about,” Haney said, recalling his professional debut. “At that point in my career, nobody was going to Tijuana. It wasn’t that common. … I had to do what I had to do.”

Doing what he had to do meant enduring barrages of boos and jeers. Sometimes from crowds of 500. Sometimes from crowds of 2,000.

He was even booed in his hometown of Las Vegas during his last title defense against JoJo Diaz Jr. Doesn’t bother him one bit, though. On Saturday, he’ll likely fight before 40,000.

“When the whole place is against you, they’re against you,” he said. “It won’t be nothing that I’m not used to. It is what it is.”

To the precipice of greatness

Like the rest of Haney’s fights, those were designed for his development. They were tailored to build his skills and brand, then to obtain and eventually defend the title he’ll risk Saturday against Kambosos.

In order to secure the fight with Kambosos (20-0 10 KOs), though, Haney left the comfort of longtime promotional partner Matchroom Boxing to sign a co-promotional deal with Top Rank and Dibella Entertainment that calls for a rematch in Australia should he win.

Essentially, the deal was brokered with more favorable terms for Kambosos.

Fine by Haney. For now.

“Nobody has always been A-side. At one point, you’ve got to take the B-side to forever be the A-side if you keep winning,” Haney says. “This is the fight where I come out the B-side and end up on top. It’s an investment. To be the guy. To come out on top with everything. All the belts in the division.”

If he exits that ring Saturday with all four belts, the boos, the jeers and the commutes will have fulfilled their purpose in crowning a new king.

“Everybody wants to be the guy. Everybody wants to make the most money,” Haney said. “Everybody wants to be the A-side. Sometimes you have to sacrifice to come out on top.”

He seems to be unbothered — and perhaps undisputed.

Contact Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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