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How good is George Kambosos Jr, really? Devin Haney fight should give the full reveal

Fair or not, there are still questions about George Kambosos Jr. But Saturday against Devin Haney should give us the clear view.

Fair or not, there are still questions about George Kambosos Jr
Fair or not, there are still questions about George Kambosos Jr
Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images
Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

Some will believe it’s unfair at this point to ask, “How good is George Kambosos Jr, really?”

After all, Kambosos holds three recognized lightweight world titles, winning them from Teofimo Lopez in a shock upset last November at New York’s Hulu Theater.

So why is it still a question?

Well, let’s take one part of that last thing, because if you ask some people, Kambosos won “four world titles” at “Madison Square Garden.” That sort of distinction between reality and boxing promotion is related to why it’s still fair to ask. Kambosos legitimately beat Teofimo Lopez, but we all know that the devil is in the details, and that there is a lot more to a lot of things in this sport — which is real but borrows the carny promotion of professional wrestling to make everything “bigger” and “better” to its marks beloved and loyal fan base, at least ahead of time. If something winds up as bad as the non-promoters predicted, hey, on to the next town with the next show!

Kambosos (20-0, 10 KO) turned pro in 2013 at the Croatian Club in Punchbowl, Australia, having taken up the sport at age 11 in a somewhat familiar story, that he had been bullied and he was brought to the sport by his father. He was also a rugby league player, and chose to pursue boxing seriously, going that route over his other sporting endeavors. He had an amateur career, though he wasn’t some super high-level amateur, and he didn’t turn pro with fanfare, hype, or a blue chip pedigree.

He was 19 when he went to the paid ranks, and through 2017 had put together a record of 13-0 (7 KO) fighting exclusively at home in Australia, where he also became a noted sparring partner for Manny Pacquiao. In 2018, he went abroad, signing with DiBella Entertainment and racking up four more wins before the first time most would ever see him fight; before he really “hit the scene,” if you will.

Kambosos’ rise up the ladder

The first two more “notable” fights Kambosos had flew under the radar for most, too. In 2019, he had a spot on the Terence Crawford vs Egidijus Kavaliauskas undercard, a show that was actually at Madison Square Garden, so he does know the difference between that and the Hulu Theater.

That night, he fought former IBF lightweight titleholder Mickey Bey, who had been gifted that belt via robbery decision over Miguel Vazquez in 2014, and then never defended it, sort of disappearing after a 2016 loss to Rances Barthelemy. By the time he got matched with Kambosos, Bey hadn’t fought a real fight in about three-and-a-half years, having had just one 94-second nothing bout in a Tijuana bar venue in 2018.

Kambosos got a split decision win, as once again a judge did their best to see it Bey’s way, as happened against Vazquez and also on one card against Barthelemy, two fights he clearly lost. I had that fight 96-93 for Kambosos, who also scored a knockdown in the 10th round.

I didn’t think of Kambosos then as any mega talent on the rise. He was a scrappy, 26-year-old Aussie with an unbeaten but pretty untested record. It was clear he wasn’t some fraud or anything, but he looked like he might be a run of the mill kind of lightweight contender, someone who could get to a title fight, maybe, if the right stuff came together, and would probably lose.

Dave Thompson/Matchroom Boxing

In 2020, he went to London to face Lee Selby in an IBF eliminator, which took a while to actually get in the ring after the early months of COVID shut boxing down and canceled a May date.

Kambosos beat Selby by split decision on the Usyk vs Chisora undercard, a fight where the DAZN commentators thought Selby had clearly won, which was baffling watching live, and the Sky commentary in the UK felt Kambosos had taken it, which wound up correct on the cards and was the right call.

I had it 115-113 for Kambosos, and again didn’t feel as though I had just seen some elite tier fighter. Selby was never a lightweight and never performed very well at the weight, with two questionable wins over Omar Douglas and Ricky Burns before losing to Kambosos and then being stopped earlier this year against Gustavo Lemos before retiring. But the win got Kambosos a spot in line for the big time.

The arrival of “The Emperor”

To avoid going into the weeds on the build to the far more well-known story of Kambosos’ win over Teofimo Lopez last year, let’s just break all that down into bullet points:

  • Kambosos did get the IBF mandatory order after beating Selby, didn’t have to fight an extra, “final” eliminator or anything, just got the shot.
  • Triller wound up winning the purse bid. The fight went to purse bid because Top Rank did not see Lopez, their fighter, against Kambosos as being worth the amount of money the fighters wanted. Triller bid a stunning $6 million for the fight; it was way, way more than market value, if we’re all being honest. Matchroom, not the promoter of either man, came in second at $3.5 million, with Top Rank way behind in third place at $2.3 million.
  • Not being an actual boxing promotional company and attempting to jump from novelty shows to a real world title boxing event, Triller spent months proving their sheer incompetence at getting this fight into the ring, going through several dates and locations before Kambosos said enough was enough as they tried to once again move the fight from Oct. 4 to Oct. 16, as Triller executives remembered that Monday Night Football exists and that a Monday night boxing pay-per-view might not be the best idea. They finally gave up on the whole thing, which put Matchroom in control of the bout, which then came together very quickly because it was being handled by professionals.

Kambosos beat Lopez. It was clear and it was fair. After a load of talk in the build-up, he did what he said he was going to do. The problems Lopez had on the night are on Lopez.

That said, how much of that upset was Kambosos being so much better than people thought, and how much was on Teofimo Lopez having an awful night and, it seems, pretty bad preparation?

Is George Kambosos Jr great, or was Teofimo Lopez a mess on the night and in the build-up?

Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Both could be true, of course. Kambosos’ ability to hone in on opponents’ insecurities in the build-up definitely got under Lopez’s skin, and the skin of his entire team, notable his father/trainer. It surely played a part in Lopez fighting like a wild man and digging himself a hole he couldn’t climb out of, because Kambosos was cool, calm, collected, and most of all, truly confident.

When Devin Haney called George Kambosos an “actor” at their face-to-face presser on the weekend, I don’t think he was necessarily wrong. Kambosos does put on an act at these press conferences. And it’s important to note it worked against Lopez. Whether it works against Haney, who does not have the temperament of Lopez, is another question, but he’s trying, digging in at Haney for being a “rat” because he sent Kambosos messages about Lopez’s poor preparation last year. (Kambosos, at least in character, considers this a traitorous betrayal of the American people or something, which is a pretty funny claim to me, an American. There are 330 million of us, and we’re not that friendly with one another.)

Listen to our Kambosos vs Haney preview and more on this week’s podcast!

If it doesn’t have the impact on Haney that it had on Lopez — and despite neither Bill Haney or Ben Davison being in Haney’s corner in Australia, we should assume Haney is better-prepared than Teofimo was — then it comes down to what both men are capable of in the ring.

As of right now, DraftKings Sportsbook have Haney listed as a -170 favorite, with Kambosos at +140. These odds have narrowed just a bit, and may come close to even by the opening bell.

These are odds far close than we saw for Lopez vs Kambosos, so even if we’re still wondering how good Kambosos is or not, it’s clear the respect he’s earned, even listed as the underdog again.

Just like we’ll settle the undisputed dispute in this fight, we’ll also know for sure just how good George Kambosos is. Haney is prepared. Haney has not spent months with rumors and questions swirling about his training, his focus, his personal life, about whether or not he was taking this seriously.

Maybe Kambosos doesn’t leap off the screen as an incredible talent in any of his bigger fights prior to Lopez, and maybe you still have reasonable questions about the nuances of the victory over Teofimo.

But Kambosos will also be prepared. He is also 100 percent focused. And his confidence is not an act — that is completely real. He is a smart man, a tireless worker, someone who’s always in shape, ready to fight, and wants the biggest fights he can make. He has been doubted repeatedly. He didn’t come into boxing with the big hype and wasn’t manufactured into a star.

George Kambosos Jr is here because he fought his way here, far more than just what we’ve seen on DAZN or ESPN in a trio of fights. It’s come in smaller fights, in training camps, in a determined quest to be the greatest fighter he can possibly be, to go further than natural ability alone can take him, and that’s what makes a professional champion, someone who stands apart from the pack.

As someone who has doubted Kambosos before, I am cautious about doing so again. We’ll learn more for sure this weekend, but don’t go in expecting Devin Haney to have some easy night on his hands. He’s in with a born fighter.

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