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.