- Sam was brought up on long drives and the dusty fields of north-west New South Wales, where he developed his love of rugby from an early age. He joined ESPNscrum after a five-year stint heading up Fox Sports Australia’s digital rugby coverage.
If George Kambosos Jr. has learned anything in 2021, it’s that you require a good lawyer to navigate the often murky and unpredictable environment that is the boxing world.
But, after a few false starts, the Australian is now just days away from what is the biggest fight of his career: a showdown with unified lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez (16-0, 12 KOs).
The storyline for this fight reads a bit like a badly written Hollywood drama, but unfortunately for Kambosos (19-0, 10 KOs) it has very much been a reality.
Lopez’s positive COVID-19 test just days out from their June 19 fight date, disagreements over the date and venue change, a complete disintegration of the deal with original promoters Triller, a subsequent lawsuit, and both personal joy and grief have very much made 2021 a “roller coaster” for the 28-year-old challenger.
But where others might have stepped away from the daily grind, Kambosos says his focus has never wavered, and that he is ready to stun the world and create Australian boxing history.
“Mentally everyone knows that Kambosos is very strong,” he told ESPN. “I’ve stayed very patient and I’ve been into work every day, day in day out, and I knew that every day I was going to get better and better. And when the fight would come, I would be 110% ready.
“I took it as a war of attrition, day by day you were having your battles with yourself to get better and better — that’s the way I looked at it. War is not won in a day, it takes time, and I’ve got that unbreakable mindset. If I go back eight weeks ago, I had the birth of my third child, my son, and on the same day my grandfather, George Kambosos, passed away. But I still trained that day, that’s the kind of fighter I am.
When Kambosos found out that Lopez tested positive, he was already in his hotel in Miami waiting for the fight, but he said he still went and trained after the news.
“I haven’t taken my foot off the pedal since forever. That’s the way I’ve always been,” Kambosos said. “People say it’s been a long preparation, they ask ‘Are you burnt out or do you get tired?’, and I say ‘This is too big to get tired.’ This has been something that I have chased since I was 11 when I first stepped into a boxing gym.”
While Lopez’s positive coronavirus test set in motion a chain of events that brought the lawyers in, it did also afford Kambosos the chance to return home to Australia as discussions over a date change unfolded.
He was forced to undertake the two-week hotel quarantine that was in place for any returning Australian at that point — something the country’s UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski is now well accustomed to — but on the other side of that stint, Kambosos was reunited with his family.
And that, he says, only further fueled his desire to stay the course in his pursuit of the WBA, WBO, IBF, WBC franchise and Ring Magazine lightweight titles.
“When I went back home to see my kids, it really cemented that motivation, that inspiration,” Kambosos explained. “Having been away from them, I was saying ‘you know what, this kid Teofimo Lopez, he’s taken all this for granted’.
“He took away a lot of time, special time with my kids, at a point where they had grown so much; it took me about a-week-and-a-half to get back into the swing of things [family routine] because they had changed so much.
“And even now, my newborn, he’s 7-8 weeks old, he’s changing every day and I can’t be there. That’s the kind of sacrifice you make.
“But that inspiration, when I did get to see them, and continue pushing through and grinding every day, it did light another spark; not that I needed anymore spark or fire, but it did burn that blazing fire even more. I said I’m gonna get this kid [Lopez] and when I do get him, he’s going to pay for all of this.”
While a new date, Nov. 27 — and promoter, Matchroom Boxing — was eventually secured early last month, Kambosos was left chastened by the experience of dealing with the fight’s original promoter, Triller.
Allegations of contract breaches and disagreements saw Kambosos launch legal action against Triller, while the IBF later defaulted the video-sharing social networking business and sports promotion newbies of the right to stage the fight.
Kambosos’ lawsuit is ongoing, as well as the Australian’s learning curve when it comes to the business side of boxing.
“The one thing I’ve learned is that you’ve got to have a good legal team with you, the right people with you, and I do have a very good team around me,” he told ESPN. “But sometimes things happen that are not in your control, one stuff up from the champ and the whole thing went sour.
“From a legal side of things, at this stage I’m not focused on any of that; I’m sure there will be more things going on between Triller and the IBF, but that’s not even of my concern. I’m focused on winning this fight, winning these belts on a great promotion like Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom promotion, and taking these belts all the way back to Australia and bringing some big fights Down Under [afterwards].
When Kambosos sounds off at the Australian boxing scene, his disapproval is aimed at a local market that is dominated by former footballers out for a quick payday getting into boxing.
He respects countryman Tim Tszyu’s achievements — the junior middleweight moved another step closer to a world title fight with victory over Takeshi Inoue in Sydney last week — but Kambosos says his journey to IBF mandatory challenger has been earned the hard way overseas.
After a slow burn, people have finally come to recognise that.
“This is massive, and the support when I was back in Australia was huge. Everywhere I went, when the fight was looking for a new date, everyone was saying ‘when’s the fight on, what’s the new date’, everyone was pumped and super excited,” Kambosos said.
“Social media-wise, it’s gone crazy, everybody can’t wait for this fight. And it is huge, not just in Australian boxing but in Australian sporting history, and the way I’ve done it, I’ve really earned it the hardest way.
“And it is a different kettle of fish [to Tim Tszyu] — I’m fighting the undisputed champ and the guy who’s got all the belts, the 2020 Fighter of the Year, a top five pound-for-pound fighter in the world, that’s who I’m fighting against, not a guy who’s there to make them look good, that they’re hyping up for a certain agenda.
“Australia will know when I come home with all the belts who the emperor of Australian boxing is.”
When the bell sounds on Saturday night however, all the build-up, the distractions and drama, the push for greater recognition in his homeland, will be forgotten.
And Kambosos is steadfast in his belief that there is only one result coming in New York City.
“On paper, this is a very good fight,” he said when asked to describe the matchup. “This is a fight between two of the best lightweights in the world. You’ve got the current No. 1, who’s got all the belts, who was the 2020 Fighter of the Year after he shocked [Vasiliy] Lomachenko. And on the other hand you’ve got the No. 1 challenger, the mandatory, the guy who earned his mandatory position, he didn’t just get it, I had to go and win my shot by beating another No. 1 challenger in Lee Selby in his hometown. So this is an explosive shootout.
“But most believe I do everything better; I’m faster, I’m more explosive. They talk about his punching power, but anyone who’s been inside those ropes with me knows first-hand the punching power that I have. I’ve been sparring welterweights and junior middleweights and they can’t believe how hard I hit. So everything I do is better.
“Even if they wanted to do old-school 15 rounds, I’ll do 15 rounds if they want. We are ready, we are ready for a massive victory and to shock the world. Many people do believe in me, many people don’t believe in me, but the most important thing is that I believe in myself. And when you’ve got that confidence and that character, that’s what makes a champion.”
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