As it turned out, Haney came close to needing an excuse of his own.
After dominating the first seven rounds, Haney weathered a late surge by Linares to unanimously outpoint the former three-weight champion on Saturday night and successfully defend his belt.
Haney, the first person to outpoint Linares, won 116-112, 116-112, 115-113 on the judges’ scorecards.
But it was Linares staggering the 135-pound champion at the end of the 10th round in the 12-round bout.
“It was a good shot, but I wasn’t hurt,” Haney said. “Sometimes when you get hit by a good shot you have to be smart, continue the game plan. I did that and got the win.”
Haney (26-0) spent much of the final three rounds ducking under Linares’ arms, hugging and stalling the action.
“I just kept smart, used the jabs, feinted and landed shots in the 12th round,” Haney said. “You are going to get hit with big shots in boxing. I didn’t get dropped, I didn’t get hurt. You see fighters get dropped and get up from big shots and people praise them, I didn’t get dropped, I stayed on my feet, kept throwing shots and closed it out.”
According to CompuBox, Haney landed 215 punches, and Linares landed 116. Haney also hit his mark with 79 jabs, while Linares landed 25.
Linares (47-6), the only person to put Vasiliy Lomachenko on his back, survived an early onslaught by Haney, who used strong combinations to the head and body to hurt the opponent 13 years his elder.
Haney looked as if he was going to drop Linares in the sixth round. He landed an overhand right and subsequent punches that caused Linares’ right eye to swell.
“I showed I can do it all,” Haneys said. “I can box, I can bang, I can take a shots and face adversity and get the job done. I knew he was going to come here and give it everything, it was a huge opportunity for him. He would be willing to get knocked out to go for the win, take my biggest shots to get this title.”
Haney said he now wants Teofimo Lopez, who fights June 19 in Miami against George Kambosis. Lopez is the undisputed champion, so a bout between the two would be for supremacy of the lightweight division.
“I want to fight the best,” Haney said. “If Teofimo wants to do it next, let’s do it for all the belts, the real undisputed.”
In the co-featured event, champion Chantelle Cameron (14-0), of Great Britain, defended her WBC world super-lightweight title with TKO of Miami’s Melissa Hernandez (23-8), in a bout stopped at 1:38 of the fifth round.
On the undercard, Ireland’s Jason Quigley (19-1) defeated Shane Mosley Jr. (17-5) by majority decision (97-93, 96-94, 95-95) to claim the vacant WBO middleweight title.
South Africa’s Azinga Fuzile (15-1) defeated Great Britain’s Martin J. Ward (24-2) with a seventh-round TKO in a final eliminator for the IBF world super featherweight title.