Bathing in the afterglow of his stunning split-decision victory over Teófimo López at the storied Madison Square Garden on Sunday, George Kambosos Jr made a proud boast.
“I’m the greatest Australian fighter in history,” he said.
That audacious claim is yet to be confirmed, but one thing is certain: Kambosos delivered the most seismic upset in a boxing ring in 2021.
Although Kambosos never wavered in his belief that he could shock the world throughout the nine-month frustration caused by video-sharing app Triller’s pie-in-the-sky bid to host the contest, there were few who backed the 7-1 underdog.
Rewind 12 months and López was the talk of the boxing world.
The number-two-ranked pound-for-pound fighter combined phenomenal power and speed with a brash personality, and equally brash father, that American audiences just lapped up.
After stunning Vasiliy Lomachenko, López stood atop a mouth-watering lightweight division that featured a group of young fighters some had already crowned the next four kings with Ryan García, Devin Haney and Gervonta Davis.
‘Emperor’ dethrones would-be king
The inactivity of the last year — caused by a COVID-positive test result and the Triller debacle — halted that momentum, but nobody seriously considered an upset of the scale Kambosos delivered, dethroning one would-be king by declaring himself “emperor”.
Through 12 pulsating rounds of boxing in which Kambosos out-foxed the lion in his own den in a tremendous contest, nobody could doubt Kambosos had done enough.
The Australian landed the cleaner punches by far, delivering superbly-timed double-jabs and a bruising overhand right that bewildered López to the point of distraction — although the startlingly mixed messages coming from the American’s corner could not have helped either.
Even the vocal home crowd agreed.
So hostile to the Aussie pre-contest, before he stunningly silenced them with that scene-setting first-round knockdown, they booed as López ill-advisedly hijacked Kambosos’s in-ring interview with delusional claims of robbery.
López claimed in that diatribe that he was “a true champion … not a sore loser” but his swollen, bloodied eyes told the true story, wildly staring as they were into a now-uncertain future.
It will go down as a split decision, but most pundits gave Kambosos the win on their cards, with only López and judge Don Trella demurring to the accepted view that a new unified champion had been crowned.
‘Too sharp, too fast, too strong’
“I’m an unbelievable boxer,” Kambosos said in the ring, following the fight.
“They can’t believe how good I box. My defence, my movement. [I’m] too sharp, too fast, too strong.
Many will add Kambosos’s resilience to that list.
Although he had stunned López with a knockdown courtesy of beautiful overhand right in the first, many imagined that would merely be a hiccup on the way to a knockout victory for the noticeably larger American.
However, Kambosos boxed brilliantly, mixing hugely intelligent ring craft with enough smack-talk to make an Ashes cricketer blush.
That belligerent taunting at the end of every round infuriated López, keeping him in a state of constant aggression that worked almost perfectly until Kambosos got too cocky, going down in the 10th.
“I was trying to entertain the fans too much,” said Kambosos, who even indulged in a spot of showboating in the sixth.
“I got back up against all odds and still finished the fight and won the next round.”
Kambosos Australia’s number one
Kambosos can now lay claim to arguably the best away-from-home performance by an Aussie boxer since 1968 when Indigenous bantamweight Lionel Rose beat Fighting Haruda at Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan.
Fans of Kostya Tszyu may have something to say about that, his stunning win over Zab Judah at the MGM Grand in 2001 a certain contender.
That victory gave Tszyu senior the undisputed light welterweight championship.
Kambosos now has three of the four lightweight belts in his locker — not including the gaudy, much-disputed WBC Franchise belt
That means Kambosos is not undisputed champion, not yet at least.
Devin Haney holds the regular WBC belt, but has indicated that he wants to fight Kambosos in the new year for the undisputed title.
First, Haney has to get past Joseph Diaz Jr next week in order for that fight to be attractive enough for Kambosos, who how has serious clout in the division.
Davis and Garcia also loom as attractive possibilities at the 135-pound limit, with blockbuster world title fights in Australia surely a possibility.
There is no doubt we are now in a rich era of Australian boxing, with the sport reaching new levels of popularity off the back of the exploits of likeable champions Jeff Horn and Tim Tszyu.
But now Kambosos can justifiably lay claim to being the biggest fish in Australia’s rapidly expanding pool of world-ranked stars.
His next fights will determine his real legacy, but few can doubt he’s made everyone sit up and take note now.
As Kambosos noted after his fight, he’s been the underdog throughout his career.
After a performance of such quality, there will be few who make the same mistake of overlooking Kambosos again.