Lightweight Devin Haney and featherweight Ruben Villa are two of the best prospects in boxing, and they will strut their stuff against undefeated opponents in their 2019 debuts on Friday night.
In the main event of the "ShoBox: The New Generation" tripleheader (10 p.m. ET/PT) at StageWorks in Shreveport, Louisiana, Haney will headline in a 10-round bout against an opponent many view as the toughest of his career in Xolisani Ndongeni. Villa will make his television debut in the eight-round co-feature against Ruben Cervera.
The card will open with heavyweights Frank Sanchez Faure (10-0, 8 KOs) and Willie Jake Jr. (8-1-1, 2 KOs) in an eight-rounder but most eyes will be squarely on Haney and Villa.
The Las Vegas-based Haney (20-0, 13 KOs), who is 20 but has been a pro since he was 17, defeated reputable opponents in Mason Menard and former world title challenger Juan Carlos Burgos in 2018.
Now, Haney, a seven-time national junior amateur champion, is taking on Ndongeni (25-0, 13 KOs), 28, of South Africa, to kick off a year in which he expects to make an impact in the 135-pound division.
"After this fight I want the whole world to know I'm no longer a prospect. I'm a contender," Haney said at Wednesday's final news conference. "I feel I have something to prove. I'm not just going for the win on Friday night. I want to make a statement. I want to look good. I want to show the world what I'm capable of.
"I think that with a win against a fighter like Ndongeni, the sky is the limit. This fight is going to take me to the next level."
Ndongeni, who has had one previous fight in the United States, said he is ready for whatever Haney brings.
"Come Friday night, it's going to be show time because, with all due respect, I'm no pushover and I didn't come here to lose," he said. "I've been in the game for a long time (since going pro in 2010). I have fought many styles and I've seen it all. I'm not scared. We are not looking for anything less than a win. I'm not leaving here without one."
Bill Haney, Devin's father and trainer who also runs Devin Haney Promotions, which is one of the promoters of the card, said his son is ready to step up in competition.
"Devin always impresses me with his work ethic and commitment to the game plan. Every day in the gym he is working on the little things that make a fighter great," he said. "Devin has come a long way since his pro debut. Once he started fighting on Showtime (last year), he's really stepped up his game. He's a natural born fighter and one hell of a good entertainer.
"We always look to step him up in competition. This is a big fight for us and we know what we are up against. These are the type of fights that are going to take him to the next level. The lightweight division is stacked and is one of the best in boxing. (Unified titlist Vasiliy) Lomachenko and (titlist Mikey) Garcia are considered pound-for-pound top 10. The young guys coming up are very talented as well and to hold the lightweight title at this time you got to be a bad boy. Devin is marching up the rankings and hopefully by the end of the year, we'll get our shot, but first we must handle business against Xolisani Ndongeni."
Villa (14-0, 5 KOs), 21, a southpaw from Salinas, California, has not gotten the kind of hype Haney has, but he had a big amateur career -- he's a two-time National Golden Gloves champion, two-time Junior Olympic National champion and went 166-17 -- and has shown much promise in less than two years as a pro.
Villa is pumped for his first television fight against Cervera (10-0, 9 KOs), 21, of Colombia.
"Being able to fight on TV is going to finally put me on the map," Villa said. "After Friday night, people are going to be talking about me. They are going to see what I'm made of. I know my opponent is a really good fighter but I don't feel any additional pressure. This is what we trained for -- a tough fight. I'm excited for Friday night. I'm eager to perform.
"It's an exciting opportunity to fight under the bright lights. This is what all boxers plan for -- to be showcased on a national platform. The focus will stay the same. I'm going to be aggressive and put my stamp on the fight. I'm looking forward to delivering a memorable performance."