If one were to ask this observer as to what I feel will be the story that dominated the sport of Boxing in 2021 beyond the continuing impact of the ongoing global COVID-19 epidemic, I would be hard-pressed to say that it was not the fiasco and subsequent long wait for the battle for the Undisputed Lightweight Championship of the world between undefeated world champion Teofimo Lopez and undefeated IBF number one contender George Kambosos. A fight that for a variety of reasons, all of which did not put Boxing in a favorable light, seemed as though it might never take place.
From a positive COVID-19 test that initially postponed the fight, to numerous issues involving promotional entity Triller from frequently changing the dates of which the bout will be rescheduled, along with changing locations and venues before ultimately defaulting on their six main dollar winning purse bid, resulting in promoter Eddie Hearn and Matchroom Boxing as the second highest bidder stepping in to finally stage the fight on November 27th at The Theater in Madison Square Garden in New York City, NY. Along the way through the numerous obstacles this fight faced in simply being staged, this went from an encounter between an undefeated world champion and a not highly regarded unbeaten mandatory challenger, to one of the most anticipated fights of the year. The reason for this was both due to the numerous issues that as this observer stated in previewing this bout resembled an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, but also what seemed to be a genuine dislike between the fighters as well as their camps.
Given everything that happened over the last seven months regarding this fight, it is understandable and I personally would hope that one would forgive a veteran Boxing journalist and historian in yours truly when I say that I had doubts that the fight would occur until I actually saw the two fighters enter the ring on fight night. Even with the more seasoned promoter in Eddie Hearn stepping in, the uncertainty of everything that had gone on as well as the continued circumstances of COVID-19, as well as the fact that the state of New York had declared a state of emergency shortly before the fight due to another variant of the COVID-19 virus, I was conditioned to almost expect the unexpected in the sense of not being sure if the fight would be allowed to take place right up until fight time.
Fortunately, for yours truly and the entire sport, Eddie Hearn was able to succeed where the novice promoter Triller could not and a fight that seemed like more of a reality show in the prelude was finally a reality. It did not disappoint. Although many people think of the prelude to a fight like this as sort of a pastime in the sense of the two fighters and their camps exchanging thoughts, opinions, predictions, and yes verbal cheap shots if not at times worse, this observer usually takes what is said with a grain of salt and prefers to direct his focus towards the fight itself.
This was a case of a power puncher in Lopez claiming that he would knock out Kambosos in the first round, going against a challenger who from the moment the fight was announced exuded confidence. Even though it is certainly not unusual throughout combat sports to hear of a fighter making bold predictions on when a fight will end, I did not think that this fight would necessarily end in one round, despite the possibility of a quick knockout always existing. The reason for this is George Kambosos was like Lopez an undefeated fighter, but was also a boxer/puncher and an old cliché that this observer believes in is “Styles Make Fights.”
Obviously, the challenge for Kambosos would be to survive an early storm of aggression from Lopez, but I felt that if he could accomplish that task it would likely turn into a more difficult fight for the champion than some had anticipated. As it would turn out, an aggressive start from Lopez would be exactly how this fight would begin as he pressed forward seemingly with the intention to end the fight with one punch.
While this put Kambosos on the defensive initially, the champion was also missing with a lot of his offense and this set up an opportunity for Kambosos to do something that many did not expect, knock the champion down with a counter right hand in the first round. Although this was a flash knockdown, it did succeed in proving two things. First that Kambosos had come to fight, and second that he had the power and ability to knock Lopez down if the opportunity presented itself.
After the first round I felt that it would have been in the champion’s best interest to abandon the approach of trying to end the fight with every single punch he threw and to settle down and approach this fight more tactically. Instead, he would continue to engage in a practice known throughout combat sports as “Head Hunting,” which played right into the challenger’s hands. Kambosos gradually was able to build on the knockdown he was able to score in the first round by implementing a consistent Boxing strategy that emphasized lateral movement, giving angles, and strategically picking his spots to throw offense. While it was clear that Lopez was the consistent aggressor in most of the rounds, it was Kambosos’ strategy and the way he timed his attacks that I felt was a story of the fight and with each passing round, he was dominating the action in my view.
This is not necessarily mean that Lopez did not have sporadic success throughout, but as the fight progressed he simply was not doing enough and did not settle down soon enough to avoid having to try to dig himself out of a hole on the scorecards in the middle and late rounds. Despite the bout appearing increasingly one-sided in my eyes as it progressed, it did not necessarily mean that it was not an entertaining fight as there were some heated exchanges throughout, but I felt that Kambosos was dictating the combat and seemed to get the better of most of the exchanges.
The appearance of an unbeaten top contender approaching a dominant victory to become an undisputed world champion however, would be thrown a bit of a curveball in the tenth round as Lopez would catch the elusive Kambosos and score a knockdown of his own with a right hand. With the fight seemingly getting away from him on the scorecards, this represented the champion’s best chance to turn things in his favor. It was not to be however, as Kambosos would do what he needed to do to survive and was able to regain control of the fight in rounds eleven and twelve.
At the conclusion of the twelve round world championship bout, I arrived with a scorecard of 118-109 in points or eleven rounds to one in favor of Kambosos. This was based largely on his ability to control the tempo of the combat throughout, make Lopez miss, controlling the champion with his jab, having frequent success landing his right hand, as well as mixing in combinations. While I felt Kambosos won nearly every round, I was not surprised to see a split decision rendered in this fight because Lopez was the consistent aggressor, but from my perspective, he was not the effective aggressor. The view of yours truly notwithstanding, there can be some that felt his aggression as well as landing hard blows when he was able to land were enough for Lopez to win some rounds that might be viewed as close. Even though it was a split decision, two of three official judges did feel as I did that Kambosos had done enough to win, making him the new Undisputed Lightweight world champion by an eight rounds to four margin.
Despite what appeared to be a clear victory in the eyes of any objective viewer for Kambosos, Lopez would claim that he won the fight shortly after the decision was announced in claiming that he felt he won ten of twelve rounds. Although this fight took place in Lopez’ backyard of New York and the vast majority of those in attendance at Madison Square Garden were in his corner at the beginning of the fight, when Lopez expressed his opinion, the crowd responded by booing the former champion.
Shortly after the decision was announced and Lopez’ comments, I commented on my social media platforms that in no disrespect to Lopez as I felt the kid, in my words still has a great career ahead of him, I felt that his ego got the better of him and that it was Kambosos that won at least ten rounds in my view. This observer followed those comments by saying that if Lopez watches the fight back, he might feel differently.
While it is certainly understandable how a young and unbeaten champion could respond in such a manner after suffering their first professional loss and subsequent loss of their world championship, I believe Lopez, who dismissed Kambosos in the lead up to the fight should have given the new champion the credit he earned. Some might be tempted to say that this victory for Kambosos was an upset.
Yours truly does not necessarily agree with that statement because Kambosos was undefeated going into the fight and even though the majority of his career has not been as high profiled as Lopez’ has been, you can never discount the possibility of an undefeated fighter being a viable opponent once they are given their opportunity. One thing however, that led to this outcome was clear to this observer. Teofimo Lopez had a plethora of distractions prior to this fight both in his personal life as well as elements of the business of the sport in dealing with the fiasco created by Triller, his bout with COVID-19, as well as signing a new extension with his promoter Top Rank and it’s broadcast partner ESPN to return to their banner and platform after this fight, which Top Rank promoter Bob Arum allowed to go to a purse bid, which ultimately benefited Matchroom Boxing, Eddie Hearn, and digital subscription sports streaming network DAZN, who staged the fight. All of the above, I believe played a role in what happened in this fight as well as a lengthy layoff after fully unifying the Lightweight division in October 2019 due largely to the issues involving Triller.
While this is not by any means an excuse and does not take anything away from George Kambosos, who had just as long a layoff and as many issues involving Triller as Lopez had prior to this fight finally taking place, it is important to remember that fighters like the rest of us are all human and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how distractions, no matter what they might be, can effect a fighter’s preparation. One must also keep in mind that Lopez had come off a career-high in defeating three-division world champion Vasyl Lomachenko in October of last year to unify the Lightweight division. After such a significant moment in a fighter’s career and wanting to secure his future financially, which led to some of the issues involving the business side of the sport, and the other subsequent things that Lopez has been dealing with, the ingredients were there for someone to take advantage if they had the right skillset to do so. It turns out George Kambosos was a fighter in the right place, at the right time and he seized the opportunity that was before him once he did get Lopez in the ring.
One thing that this observer noticed that also did not benefit Lopez as the fight progressed was the advice he received from his father Teofimo Lopez Sr. throughout who seemed to encourage his son to continue looking for a knockout even as the fight was gradually getting away from him on the scorecards. While this could be a case of a mistake in a trainer/father’s coaching of a young fighter, perhaps if Lopez Sr. had told his fighter to settle down in the early or middle rounds and change the approach of Kambosos, he may have had more success. It simply appears that Lopez and his team took Kambosos lightly and unfortunately for them, they paid the price of losing the fight and the Lightweight crown as a result.
As is always the case when it comes to a fight like this, the obvious question is what happens next? The obvious answer will most likely come in the form of what happens this coming weekend when undefeated top contender Devin Haney squares off against former IBF Lightweight world champion Joseph Diaz on December 4th at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, NV.
Haney, currently holds what amounts to an interim championship designation in the WBC’s Lightweight rankings due to the organization designating Teofimo Lopez a “Franchise Champion” shortly after his victory over Vasyl Lomachenko in 2019. Although longtime readers have long heard me speak out against such designations by sanctioning organizations as though well-intentioned as a means of ensuring that top contenders get an opportunity one way or another to fight for a world title, creates more problems than it solves, Haney is one of two fighters currently that hold such a designation in the WBC’s Lightweight rankings, the other being undefeated contender Ryan Garcia. In a perfect universe, which the sport of Boxing is far from, the appropriate course of action would be to mandate the winner of Haney-Diaz to fight Garcia. Garcia however, has been inactive in recent times due to dealing with mental health struggles. While it is commendable that Garcia has chosen to put his mental health first before his career, this would seemingly open the door for the winner of Haney-Diaz to face the newly crowned undisputed champion George Kambosos at some point in 2022.
While it is also important to keep in mind that as an undisputed/unified world champion, Kambosos will now have to face the top contenders of each organization of world championships he holds on a rotating basis, much like Lopez had to do after being undisputed champion where it was Kambosos as the IBF’s mandatory that was first in the rotation, I believe that if he were to fight the winner of Haney-Diaz it would at least for a short time take care of his mandatory defense obligations with regard to the WBC, while the WBA, IBF, and WBO each determine the next slate of mandatory challengers for their respective portions of the Undisputed Lightweight world championship.
There also exists the possibility that Lopez may have a rematch clause and if he is not interested in moving up in weight to the140lb. Jr. Welterweight division, obviously, that rematch clause would have to be dealt with before an encounter between Kambosos and the Haney-Diaz winner. Outside of a Kambosos-Lopez rematch however, with Ryan Garcia still out of competition, there may be no bigger fight on the table financially for the new champion than a bout with the Haney-Diaz winner even though the 135lb. Lightweight division remains one of Boxing’s deepest and talent-rich divisions in the entire sport.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
The Boxing Truth® is a registered trademark of Beau Denison All Rights Reserved.
Follow Beau Denison on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Beau_Denison