Boxing, at times, is a sport of moments. One moment can change the direction of the sport for media and fans alike. Last November, at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, George Kambosos Jr. (20-0, 10 KOs) landed a right hand that dropped then lightweight kingpin Teofimo Lopez in the first round. This became the catalyst for his eventual split decision victory over the heavily favored power puncher.
Kambosos' victory would shake up the boxing world. First viewed as just one of the long line of mandatory challengers playing the role of pit stop in between more significant fights, he turned out to be more than a mere bump in the road, but a complete change in direction. The victory over Lopez gave him the designation as the disputed-undisputed lightweight champion, winning the IBF, WBO, WBA, and the head-scratching WBC-franchise title.
Heading into his fight with challenger and WBC lightweight titleholder Devin Haney (27-0, 15 KOs) this weekend in his home country of Australia at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne, Kambosos is as confident and maybe even more so than he was against Lopez.
“I have visualized victory by any means,” said Kambosos at one of the final press conferences. “I have manifested everything, every part of this journey. They said that we would never be here, but only two people really believed it, me and my father. So, I manifested my victory, and I visualize victory by any means on Sunday.”
The Australian's first choice was to face off against two-time Olympic gold medalist Vasiliy Lomachenko; however, the war that broke out earlier this year between Russia and Lomachenko's home country of Ukraine derailed the fight. Despite, Kambosos' confidence and loquacious bravado, many are still skeptical about his status as one of the best in the lightweight division. After the fight with Lopez, it was found that the young Brooklyn-native was suffering from pneumomediastinum. A condition where air surrounds the chest, heart, and neck areas making breathing extremely difficult. In spite of entering the fight as high as a 10-1 favorite, Lopez wasn't at his best when he stepped in the ring with Kambosos.
But, the fact that Kambosos was slightly underrated by the boxing public and exhibited a higher boxing acumen than anticipated likely had just as much to do with him having his hand raised against Lopez as any ailment the former champion entered within the ring. “I thought it was just asthma,” Lopez said in an interview with ESPN following the bout with Kambosos. “I fought through asthma before. If I told everybody, they would've canceled the fight. But I chose not to because of the amount of pressure I was under. I didn't want to hear people say, ‘Oh, another postponement.' That was not me in there Saturday night.”
With the fight against Haney taking place in Australia, there is a perceived underlying advantage that Kambosos will enter the ring, having won two rounds on the judge's scorecards before the sound of the first bell. Five years ago, Manny Pacquiao famously fought in Australia against Australian Jeff Horn and lost a controversial unanimous decision that was met with the same vitriol as the fighting Senator's disputed loss to Timothy Bradley. The most significant difference, in this case, is that Haney is entering his prime, unlike Pacquiao, who was years removed from his before facing Horn.
Kambosos has his share of skeptics, but his opponent does as well. Against Kambosos, Haney fights not only for the undisputed lightweight championship but also for his legitimacy as a real-world champion. In 2019, Haney was elevated from interim WBC lightweight champion to regular champion when the WBC designated Vasiliy Lomachenko as the WBC' franchise champion'. Initially, it was thought that the ‘franchise' distinction was an honorary title that couldn't be lost inside the squared circle, but the ‘franchise' title went from Lomachenko to Lopez and now to Kambosos.
Haney won the interim title by defeating Russia's Zaur Abdullaev in September 2019. The act of being recognized as the WBC lightweight champion without having dethroned a titleholder has rallied many critics to view Haney as champion by name only. On multiple occasions, some of Haney's contemporaries, such as Teofimo Lopez and Gervonta Davis, referred to him as an 'email' champion.
“He's an email champ,” said Davis on the Last Stand Podcast with Brian Custer. “He's fighting because somebody mailed him the belt. And he was talking crazy. If you win, let's make the fight happen since you wanna talk crazy. I wanna fight you if you win, Devin Haney.” Lopez was one of the first to insult Haney with the 'email' champion moniker after many questioned his undisputed status following his victory over Lomachenko in October 2020. “I don't think it's a true factor that he earned it in the ring,” Lopez told DAZN News. “It's something that he got elevated and went up one and got his regular belt via email. That's why I call him the email champion.”
On the most recent episode of the ProBox TV podcast, co-host Paulie Malignaggi made his thoughts clear on the lightweight title picture and where he feels Haney stands in the conversation.
“George Kambosos is the undisputed lightweight champion,” said Malignaggi. “Devin Haney is fighting as the challenger. He doesn't have a real belt; case closed on that part. So having said that, the winner of this week's fight will be the undisputed champion. No questions asked. No denying it, no debate about it. So, if Devin Haney beats George Kambosos, I'm telling you, it's not an opinion; it's fact, he becomes the undisputed lightweight champion. But, right now, the fact and not the opinion is that George Kambosos is the undisputed lightweight champion of the world.”
Haney may not yet have the respect of some of his peers, but the 23-year-old has increased his level of competition over his previous two outings. Last May, Haney faced off against former lightweight champion and three-division champion Jorge Linares. For the majority of the bout, Haney was dominant using his jab. However, at the end of the 10th-round, the veteran hurt him during an exchange with a right hand forcing him to fight in survival mode for the final two rounds. Haney is the only fighter not to score a knockdown or a stoppage of the seven losses on Linares' resume.
Following the win over Linares, Haney faced off against former super featherweight champion Joseph “Jo Jo” Diaz at the end of 2021. Much like the match with Linares, Haney controlled the distance and pace by utilizing his jab. But he again found himself in vulnerable positions multiple times, stunned by the former Olympian.
The criticisms inside the ring against Haney are that he lacks power and may be shrinking himself to make the lightweight division. He is still young enough not to face the repercussions of cutting weight, but eventually, it could hurt him in a fight against the wrong opponent. Kambosos is a true lightweight and represents the most challenging opponent for Haney thus far in his career. The same rings true for the Australian, as many view Haney as the technically superior pugilist. “I feel like I'm the far better fighter,” said Haney. “I have far more skills than him. I will show him on Sunday. It's for me to show in the ring. The betting odds really don't matter because I will show you no matter what they say. I'm levels above him.”
Both Haney and Kambosos will carry a heavy burden when they enter the squared circle against one another. Kambosos will attempt to prove that he is more than just a one-hit-wonder who faced the right opponent at the right time. Destiny has been a large part of his vocabulary, and everything is going according to plan for him. Haney will enter the ring with a chip on his shoulder with motivation to win and show those who don't consider him a true world titleholder that he is not only a champion but the best lightweight in the world.
Either way, both men will have plenty to prove to themselves and the world inside the ring.