April 23, 2024

The comments were as salty as they were honest.  

Seated across from one another in the center of an empty pitch inside Marvel Stadium in Melbourne, Australia, the same surface where the two will compete Saturday (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET) for the undisputed lightweight championship, George Kambosos Jr.’s attempt at reliving his inspirational backstory was interrupted by fellow unbeaten Devin Haney.  

“Oh my God! Just come on with it,” Haney said during their Fox Sports Australia “Face Off” interview on Wednesday. “Here you go … stop. Just stop it, stop the acting. Cut to the chase, bro. Nobody believes you. You’re an actor.”  

Although the reaction from Haney (27-0, 15 KOs) was dismissive, the 23-year-old WBC champion from Las Vegas might as well have been speaking for most American boxing fans over the past 18 months whenever the name of Kambosos (20-0, 10 KOs) has been brought up.  

Previously, the 28-year-old Kambosos had been nothing more than a footnote to the 135-pound title picture in one of boxing’s deepest divisions, ripe with blue-chip young talent who appear poised to take over the sport.  

Australian by birth and Greek by descent, Kambosos had spent his previous five years globetrotting in utter obscurity by winning fights of varying degrees of low profile — from cities as far reaching as London to Las Vegas and Kuala Lumpur to his native Sydney — in order to secure mandatory opponent status opposite rising star and unified champion Teofimo Lopez Jr.

Despite consecutive split-decision wins over faded former champions Mickey Bey and Lee Selby, Kambosos wasn’t given much of a chance by anyone to upset the apple cart. In fact, the extended soap opera of the Lopez build (which featured a record-breaking purse bid, chronic postponements and a late network swap) only further conspired to drain fan interest in the fight, especially by those unhappy at seeing Lopez’s career advancement delayed following his upset of former pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko.  

No one bothered to tell Kambosos, however, that the Lopez fight was merely a foregone conclusion. Headlining New York’s Madison Square Garden last November, Kambosos made a statement of epic proportions when he dropped Lopez in the opening round and battered him throughout a thrilling split decision to commandeer the WBA, IBF and WBO titles.  

Fast forward to this weekend, after talks to face Lomachenko fell apart due to the ongoing military conflict in Ukraine, Kambosos finds himself returning to fight at home for the first time since 2017. Only this time, it will be as a conquering hero in front an expected crowd of 50,000 as the power player in the division.  

Kambosos, who parlayed his network free-agent status in the U.S. following the Lopez win to sign a co-promotional deal with Top Rank to fight on ESPN, will now welcome Haney for a shot at becoming boxing’s eighth undisputed male champion of the four-belt era, joining the likes of Bernard Hopkins, Jermain Taylor, Terence Crawford, Oleksandr Usyk, Josh Taylor, Canelo Alvarez and Jermell Charlo.  

“The reason this will be one of the biggest fights Australia has ever hosted is not just because George is a native son but also because he chose to take the hard road — traveling the world to chase his dream of becoming world champion,” Kambosos’ longtime promoter Lou Dibella said. “The fact that George chose to make his first defense against another undefeated world champion shows the confidence he has in himself and that he embodies the Australian and Greek spirit of being a warrior and a winner.” 

While the aggressive nature in which he claimed Lopez’s world titles was impressive, his upset story wasn’t enough to convince everyone that his inspirational title reign would be nothing more than a transitional one, especially considering the likes of Lomachenko, Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia still reside within the division. It’s a fear that the ultra-confident Kambosos simply doesn’t share, which is why he went out of his way to lure Haney, himself a rare network and promotional free agent, into a lucrative deal that includes a rematch clause.  

“I could’ve fought anyone, I could’ve fought the garbageman outside if I wanted to, but I chose you,” Kambosos said to Haney. “You’re not my mandatory. I picked you. You’re here, and everything is a go. This is amazing. This is what the sport is about, and I made this happen. I chose the biggest fights possible.” 

Although Kambosos isn’t entering as the same astronomical betting underdog he was against Lopez, the oddsmakers still prefer Haney as a slight favorite. But the public sentiment is starting to slowly change, not just because Kambosos will be fighting in his backyard in front of a hostile crowd, but because his opponent’s father and trainer, Bill Haney, was ruled unable to make the trip due to a felony drug conviction dating back to 1992. 

Yet even with the life-changing money and the opportunity to be spoiled by the cheers of his home nation, Kambosos has still taken on the demeanor of a challenger in this fight despite being the power broker at 135 pounds given his status as a three-belt champion.  

The reasons are simple. First off, Kambosos simply loves to fight. Clad nearly head to toe in tattoos, the boxer who calls himself “Ferocious” tends to a fight in a style that is similar to his nickname. But more importantly, given his history as a hard-scrabble opportunist who came from nothing and wasn’t given anything throughout his meteoric rise, Kambosos knows that everything must be believed in first and then earned.  

“This is everything I have manifested. I have visualized and I have said it,” Kambosos said. “I said I would go and take the belts off Lopez and bring them back here for a mega stadium fight and this happened. I made this. The crowd will be here but at the end of the day, I love to fight. I fought in enemy territory, I fought in front of no people when I beat Lee Selby. At the end of the day, it’s me and [Haney] in that ring and the fans are going to get a great show. 

And to anyone who still doubts him, Kambosos has no problem flashing that same chip on his shoulder that is responsible for where he is today.  

“That chip on my shoulder makes me as hungry as ever,” Kambosos told ESPN this week. “The ones that have said things about us, no problem, they’re going to watch. But go and find them on the fight night, I bet you won’t find them, because they ain’t got nothing to do with us, or this show, we’ve made sure that we’ve had it our way. 

“That chip on that shoulder, I don’t think it’s ever going to go. But when it does go, maybe that will be the time for me to give it in and move on to something else.” 

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