No one would blame George Kambosos Jr. if he had a few doubts in his head right about now, days ahead of his challenge for Teofimo Lopez Jr.’s lightweight belts this Saturday at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater.
Those doubts wouldn’t have anything to do with the Australian’s skill set, what Lopez brings to the ring, or what will happen in the ring on fight night, but if the fight will take place at all after a seemingly endless array of starts and stops that have kept the combatants in limbo for much of the year.
“Until I see him face to face at the weigh-in and he makes the weight and he's there in my presence, it will solidify, but I'm just very focused,” said Kambosos last week as he prepared to leave Miami for the Big Apple. “I've had an unbelievable camp and it's been a long rollercoaster ride, but throughout the whole time I've kept my tunnel vision and we're here now.”
“Tunnel vision” is the operative phrase for the 28-year-old from Sydney, who has never swayed from his end goal, not just since getting the fight for Lopez’ titles, but ever since his pro debut in 2013. Back then, Kambosos was a kid with a dream and only his fists, wits and grit to get him there. Sounds like enough to work with, but not for an Australian hoping for world domination and not just earning the status of local hero.
“I started from the local club shows, hustling tickets, hustling table seats, trying to make a little bit of commission and to use that money as a young kid for my camp and get to the U.S. eventually and pay for the flights and accommodation and get the right sparring,” he said. “And then all of a sudden, my doors open and I got to go with the legend Manny Pacquiao, and all of a sudden I'm back here, fighting on the U.S. circuit, and I moved my way up the ratings and I get my shot now against a formidable name in Mickey Bey, then I get my shot again in an eliminator against Lee Selby in his backyard. These backyard, road warrior situations that I've been in, and I'm still standing, I'm still here. I've had to literally crawl to get to this position.”
Going 13-0 on his home turf in Australia, Kambosos made his United States debut in 2018, and after back-to-back victories over Bey and Selby, in 2019 and 2020, respectively, that lifted his record to 19-0, he earned his shot at Lopez.
At that moment late last year, it was the perfect storm, the perfect Hollywood story for Kambosos. Then it all went awry, with no less than six postponements before this weekend’s date and venue was finally set in stone. And now that it is, Kambosos can look back at the last several months philosophically.
“Look, it's the way it was,” he said. “That's the way it took place. It was never on my side. I've wanted to fight ASAP, I wanted to have the date set and let's go, let's do it. It hasn't been from my part or my team, but we're here now. I've kept that tunnel vision, I've stayed very patient and the way I've looked at it is, I've gotten better and better every single day. The day it got postponed, I went back to the gym, continued perfecting my craft and kept that full focus. And the way I looked at it as well was, war doesn't end in a day; sometimes it takes years and years. My grandfathers were at war for many years, so when it comes to that war of attrition, we're gonna fight the battles every day in the gym and by doing the right things by this sport. I made sure that I constantly won those battles, not only against Lopez, but obviously when you're fighting against yourself every day, as well.”
It hasn’t been an easy wait, not simply because it’s been a long one, but because it’s been contentious between the two fighters, a situation that can be draining over the course of a two-month training camp, let alone a year-long one. But as it has been from the start, for Kambosos it always goes back to that tunnel vision, even when real life enters the equation.
“I love this sport,” he said. “I live in the gym and when there is no fight lined up or I had the biggest win of my life in my last fight against Lee Selby, I'm back in the gym that night. I haven't stopped. I love the gym, I love getting better and better, and it's the way I am as a person. And that's what a true champion is. They continue to be in the gym and be that role model for the younger generation.”
Kambosos pauses, then continues.
“I'll tell you how much of a tunnel vision I have and how unbreakable it is. On the 24th of September, we had our third baby, my son, and a few hours later, unfortunately my grandfather, George Kambosos, passed away, so it was a bitter pill to swallow and a real weird feeling. But that night, I trained. Any other fighter in the world, and a hundred percent if that happened to Lopez, he would not be training. I trained that night and I have not stopped since the day of the postponements, since the day I beat Lee Selby to earn my shot, since I lost my grandfather and gained my son. That's the kind of fighter I am. So when you talk about this long period and how I've stayed in the gym, if them things aren't gonna break me, this kid is not gonna break me inside them ropes.”
As much as Lopez might dismiss the challenge Kambosos presents this weekend, he knows what he’s in for and who he’s in with. The reason is simple: Lopez has been in Kambosos’ shoes. Not ten years ago, but as recently as last October, when he defeated the man he was chasing, Vasiliy Lomachenko. Now Lopez is the hunted, and Kambosos is the hunter. And for all the talk from Lopez saying he’s focused on making an emphatic statement in NYC, all the chatter around him is about what happens in 2022 and against what other big names. For Kambosos, his whole career begins and ends on November 27. That makes him a dangerous man. And he knows it.
“This means everything,” Kambosos said. “I've had a very hard road. It means more than the belts. This means more than the purse, which I don't care about. It means more than everything. This means my whole life. Everything I've done since 10, 11 years of age, the hard road, the really earning it to get to this position, it will cement that it was all worth it. Them late nights, the sacrifices, the time away from the family and the kids, the missing of celebrations. It was my wife's birthday yesterday and that's two years in a row I missed it. The passing of my grandfather, I haven't even had a chance to grieve my grandfather because I've been so embedded in this fight. All that is in one ball. It's a lot of raw emotion where I take that into the fight but I don't use it in a state where I get overwhelmed. I take that with me as inspiration and motivation. And it's gonna be all worth it.”