The Australian, of Greek descent, emerged victorious in New York after exchanging knockdowns in a gripping lightweight world title fight
The Australian was the forgotten attraction in the lightweight title fight, the fall-guy, the designated loser, the lucky winner of a massive purse bid for a challenger and the bookies had stopped caring about a potential upset. It was the Lopez show.
Kambosos, in all fairness, had very little on his record to suggest a huge shock, no names hidden in the list of men he had beaten and, let’s be brutally honest, there were no reassuring reports from his on-and-off camp in Miami that hinted at any type of upset. The “Aussie Kid”, about the kindest thing written about him, was simply in the wrong fight.
Lopez was unbeaten in just 16 fights, he held three of the four lightweight title belts and last October he fought a masterclass to beat Vasyl Lomachenko. The Lomachenko win was also a shock, but Lopez looked every bit the young superstar in that fight. The Kambosos defence, a mandatory, was a nuisance from the day in February when it was settled with a vast purse bid from a company called Triller; it was then on and off with as many as seven dates.
Triller fell out of the game, a different television channel and promoter emerged, and there was then a long delay. Lopez remained in the spotlight, Kambosos commuted between Miami and Sydney, his life on hold, and his dream seemingly vanishing. Nobody cared anyway about the Australian.
“All the pressure is on him,” Kambosos told me from his camp in Miami two weeks ago. “I’m meant to lose, I’m meant to fall over. Nobody has asked me what I think about the fight. It’s all about Lopez.”
Kambosos predicted that he would win a hard fight because he had prepared for a hard fight. On Saturday, in the old Felt Forum under the Garden’s Big House, Kambosos won a hard fight because he prepared for a hard fight. And what a fight it was.
Lopez started so fast, pushing Kambosos all over the ring, laughing, talking, smiling and throwing punches without any respect for his opponent.
It was the fight Lopez promised. In the first round Kambosos was caught and forced back from the opening bell until 2 minutes and 45 seconds when he timed a Lopez charge. Kambosos connected cleanly with a right hand and down went Lopez.
The bell sounded a few seconds later and Lopez was grinning but still hurt. That was the warning, that was what everybody had overlooked.
“I will catch him when he rushes in,” Kambosos had said. And he did.
The fight was a raw, slugfest after that knockdown. Lopez still fought like it was his right in his town to win; Kambosos fought like a man determined not to be embarrassed. Kambosos would not be denied – he had been denied, overlooked and ignored for months, and had been forced to listen to the plans of Lopez, forced to listen to plans for all the great fights that Lopez was going to be in. That is a different level of insult and nobody likes to be invisible in the boxing business.
It was attritional from the start of the second. Lopez did try to think a bit more, connecting with good, clean shots, but Kambosos was inspired.
They exchanged punches and tangled with the referee after several rounds, the Lopez crowd falling in and out of sound; from about the fifth, Kambosos was smiling at the end of rounds. It was very good, make no mistake.
In round nine, Kambosos was caught and hurt, but Lopez was tired and marked up, with blood coming from a nasty cut above his left eye. It was a tight fight, but the sense was that Kambosos was just about in front. Nobody had predicted nine rounds like they were delivering.
And then, suddenly, Kambosos looked tired and hurt, and with two minutes left in round 10 he was dropped to his knees; Lopez was grinning, it looked like he had turned the fight in his favour and he can finish a hurt fighter. It looked like the crazy dream was over. The pro-Lopez crowd found their voice in that historic building.
Kambosos was hurt again and again in that round, but he refused to fall over and kept on throwing punches as Lopez tried to finish him. It was Rocky in New York on Saturday night. Kambosos survived the round and Lopez was shattered. It was pure heroics.
Kambosos won the 11th, and the pair were cut and exhausted as they came out for the 12th and final round. The fight could have gone either way, but the feeling was that Kambosos was just in front.
There was blood everywhere and Kambosos would simply not back down. The last 60 seconds were staggering. The bell sounded, it was a Kambosos’s round and then it was the duty of the three judges to deliver justice in New York City. And they did, a split decision for the Australian. George Kambosos was the champion, Lopez was defeated. It was a righteous decision.
There was not a lot of humility in defeat and Lopez insisted that he had won 10 of the 12 rounds. Kambosos remained dignified. The talking will rage on, but the fight was all that mattered. The months of neglect and the months of disrespect should not continue with days and weeks of bitter laments from inside the Lopez camp.
Kambosos is a hero now in Australia and in the boxing game. He is a wonderful example of what happens when we all fail to prepare for an underdog. The boxing press and Lopez took a beating on Saturday night and it was wonderfully refreshing.