When unified lightweight world champion Teofimo Lopez Jr. and mandatory challenger George Kambosos Jr. square off for the title it won’t be the first time they will have come face to face.
They are penciled in to fight on June 5 in Miami, although the date and venue have not officially been announced, in the main event of a Triller Fight Club pay-per-view card.
Lopez and Kambosos first got acquainted and even posed for a photo together when they attended the Top Rank card on which Richard Commey knocked out Ray Beltran in the eighth round to win the IBF lightweight title in June 2019 in Temecula, California.
“This was destiny. I could feel it,” Kambosos told BoxingScene.com about what he thought when he and Lopez met. “The whole thing has been destiny between me and Lopez to fight. We met in 2019 and we took a photo together when we contenders coming up. I don’t know if he had that vibe but I had that vibe and I go to myself, ‘I’m gonna cross paths with this kid.’”
Kambosos said their interactions were cordial.
“No serious words exchanged. We knew who each other were,” he said. “It was fine when we spoke to each other. It was just a quick chat but I just knew our time would come. It’s crazy how I predicted this. I thought when we took that photo this was a future mega fight.”
The meeting at the boxing card in Temecula was not the only time Lopez and Kambosos have met.
They would meet again and chat during a photo shoot in December 2019 when they both appeared on a Terence Crawford undercard in New York, where Lopez (16-0, 12 KOs), 23, of Brooklyn, New York, knocked out Commey in the second round to win the IBF title and Kambosos (19-0, 10 KOs), 27, of Australia, outpointed former lightweight world titlist Mikey Bey in a 10-rounder.
“We spoke about him traveling to Greece. Obviously, I’m a proud Greek,” Kambosos said. “He said how much he loved Greece and the food. No bad vibes. That was then. Now that the fight is done, we’re fighting. There’s no peace. F--- peace. It’s war now. I’m not coming for peace. Whatever was in the past, whatever interaction we’ve had -- and we’ve been gentlemen to each other -- that’s fine. But now it is war. Everybody knows I’m a proud Greek-Australian. I have that warrior, that Sparta in me. My family is from Sparta so I believe I have the blood lines of (Sparta king) Leonidas himself, so we’re going to war. If he wants a war, he’s getting one.”
The fight will be a lucrative one for both men as they will each make by far their biggest payday. The fight went to a purse bid in late February because Lopez and his promoter, Top Rank, were miles apart on the money.
Triller saw far more value in the fight than any other promoter and bid a whopping $6.018 million, a number so big that it beat the two other bids combined – an offer of $3.506 million from Matchroom Boxing, which was bidding in conjunction with DAZN and Kambosos promoter Lou DiBella, and $2.315 million offered by Top Rank.
Triller’s bid means Lopez is entitled to 65 percent of the money, $3,911,700, although he must pay Top Rank 20 percent ($782,340). Kambosos is entitled to 35 percent ($2,106,300) minus a roughly 25 percent (about $500,000) cut that goes to DiBella.
While all is calm on Kambosos’ side there are well-documented issues on the Lopez side because of bad feelings over the negotiations and purse bid that caused a fracture in the relationship between Top Rank and Lopez, his father/trainer Teofimo Lopez Sr. and manager David McWater. Kambosos views that as being to his advantage.
“We knew there were issues with Lopez and Top Rank, which have actually skyrocketed now since the purse bid,” he said. “That is a massive problem from his side. That’s beautiful. Let them have their problems. I’ve got clear vision.”
Like Lopez, Kambosos has taken exception to Top Rank chairman Bob Arum putting down the fight, claiming nobody cares about the matchup, which is why he didn’t want to spend more to make it.
“Bob’s got to worry about his issues with his own fighter and not worry about me,” Kambosos said. “For a non-marquee fight it done pretty well in the purse bid didn’t it? Bob needs to relax because he’s fighting with everybody right now. He can’t keep himself quiet.
“The guy’s 89 years of age. Relax. I know he loves to smoke some weed, so maybe he’s gotta smoke a little bit more and chill out because it’s done. The fight’s happening. He didn’t win the purse bid. Work out your issues with your own fighter. You want to call me whatever you want -- a good fighter, not an elite fighter, this is not a marquee fight, well there’s been many fights that have shocked the world.”
Kambosos believes he will be one of those fighters to shock the world. He watched Lopez outpoint Vasiliy Lomachenko to win the unified title in October and said he was hardly impressed.
“I don’t want to put this kid down with that win because he beat Lomachenko,” Kambosos said. “We all saw it and the facts are the facts. Lomachenko was either scared or – he didn’t throw any punches in the first seven rounds. We saw a guy that threw minimal punches, ran, was afraid of this guy and then he suddenly opened up and started throwing shots and put Lopez on the back foot and it looked like he might stop Lopez.
“He hit Lopez with big shots, he rocked him a few times. Like Lopez started to gas. What’s gonna happen when you’ve got a hungry young guy like myself, hasn’t made huge money yet, who hasn’t won all the titles yet, who hasn’t been a two-time Olympic gold medalist, come straight at you ready to throw punches? Let’s see how good his gas tank is. I believe he has engine problems. I see it. And one guy who does not have engine problems, and you can see it by my fights, is George Kambosos Jr.”
The lightweight division is stocked with talented fighters such as Lopez, Ryan Garcia, Devin Haney, Gervonta “Tank” Davis and others, but Kambosos said once he beats Lopez, his name will “go straight on top of that list.”
“I love proving people wrong. Just like Triller at the purse bid, there will be one more shock when I beat Lopez,” Kambosos said. “This is gonna be a hell of a fight. I’m coming for war. You come back from battle either with your sword or on your shield. It’s kill or be killed. I’m not gonna lay down and say, ‘Beautiful, I just made this amount of money.’ I’m coming to win them belts.”
Dan Rafael was ESPN.com's senior boxing writer for fifteen years, and covered the sport for five years at USA Today. He was the 2013 BWAA Nat Fleischer Award winner for excellence in boxing journalism.