George Kambosos Jr. becomes king of the lightweight division with stunning split decision win over Teofimo Lopez

“Give them nothing, take from them everything, this is where we hold them, this is where we fight.” The words of King Leonidas rang through Madison Square Garden to precede the entrance of George ‘Ferocious’ Kambosos Jr., and the Australian lived up to those vows by stripping Teofimo ‘The Takeover’ Lopez of his Ring Magazine, IBF, WBA, and WBO world titles with a stunning display.

Kambosos floored Lopez in round one, before surviving a 10th round knockdown and regrouping to win the last two rounds and seal a tight split decision victory to upset the odds and take his place at the top of the lightweight division.

IN THE RED CORNER – GEORGE KAMBOSOS JR.

The IBF mandatory challenger Kambosos was originally scheduled to face Lopez in May, eight date changes had since taken place with reasons ranging from Lopez contracting COVID-19, schedule clashes with major sporting events, and refusal of the champion to travel abroad. During this time, Kambosos had endured the death of his beloved Grandfather and also trained in camp through the birth of his third child in preparation for his first career world title shot.

After a successful lawsuit against Triller from the team of Kambosos, Matchroom was awarded the rights to the fight, and Kambosos would finally receive his title shot in New York City, the hometown of defending champion, Lopez.

Kambosos (19-0, 10KO) earned his mandatory challenger status by traveling to England and beating former IBF world featherweight champion Lee Selby via a hard-fought split decision. This would be the second fight for Kambosos at Madison Square Garden, having beaten another former IBF world champion Mickey Bey via split decision in 2019.

IN THE BLUE CORNER – TEOFIMO LOPEZ

Defending champion Lopez (16-0, 12KO) had risen to the top of the lightweight division by upsetting Vasyl Lomachenko by unanimous decision in his last fight just over a year ago. The victory over Lomachenko added the Ring Magazine, WBO, and WBA world lightweight titles to the IBF championship he had won in 2019 with an explosive second round stoppage win over Richard Commey.

George Kambosos Jr., Teofimo Lopez Jr boxing image / photo

Like Kambosos, defending champion Lopez had suffered a frustrating buildup with all the date changes, and revealed to the DAZN announce team that he had spent over $250,000 on this training camp, at one point having only $20,000 to his name after what was supposed to be a life changing win over Lomachenko. The champion also explained his disappointment of friends and family members who had “abandoned him” during difficult times outside of the ring. He would not have to look far for support inside of the arena, as Madison Square Garden was filled with a boisterous pro-Lopez crowd.

Australian challenger Kambosos had clearly got under the skin of Lopez in the fight buildup, along with suggestions that a year of inactivity would have dulled his skills. An angry champion stated pre-fight that “this fight won’t last more than one round because I want to show them: don’t f*ck with me. Let me know if I lost momentum come November 28th.”

IT’S SHOWTIME

Australian Kambosos walked to the ring to rap music that was preceded by the worlds of King Leonidas in a nod to his Greek Spartan roots. The champion energetically skipped through the crowd dressed in red and gold attire and gestured to the crowd animatedly as his name was announced by David Diamante.

The pair stared at each other intensely and smacked gloves together in hostile fashion after referee Harvey Dock gave his final instruction. “You scared brother,” trainer and father Teofimo Lopez Sr. could be heard saying to Kambosos as the fighters prepared for the opening bell.

Lopez came out guns blazing, throwing an early punch so hard that he stumbled and followed it up with three more venomous blows before Kambosos grabbed Lopez in a clinch. Lopez was immediately on the attack again before Kambosos locked his arm in another clinch with referee Dock warning the fired-up Lopez for throwing a punch after the break.

The relentless Lopez came forward again but was caught with a check hook from Kambosos in what was an all-action opening to the fight. Lopez continued to swing heavily while Kambosos fought back with a series of jabs.

Living up to his pre-fight promise to try and end the fight in the first round, Lopez continued to let his hands fly and landed four right hands before the crowd was stunned by Kambosos countering with a swift right hook and knocking down the champion. The champion rose quickly and took an eight count before Kambosos rushed in to swing a heavy right hand that saw him fall forward, referee Dock checked on Kambosos and the fight continued after no knockdown was ruled with Kambosos looking past the referee to taunt Lopez as the bell rang to end an enthralling first round.

The father and trainer of Lopez had become emotionally flustered repeatedly in the pre-fight build-up, and that showed through in the interval between rounds one and two, a point in the fight Lopez had predicted would not be reached. “Take your time,” advised Lopez Sr. before adding “finish him already what the f*ck is going on” just seconds later. “That was off balance,” Lopez Sr. then added inaccurately about the knockdown in coaching that appeared to contain little to no technical or tactical advice.

An angered Lopez came out on the front foot again in round two while Kambosos continued to measure him up for right-handed counter shots. The volume of punches appeared to drop from Lopez in round two, with Kambosos proving to be a real threat on the counterattack. As the bell rang, the Australian again smiled and had words for Lopez before both fighters returned to their corner.

Lopez backed Kambosos onto the ropes with two heavy right hands to open round three before the Australian challenger grabbed onto a clinch and referee Dock separated the pair. The fight then settled into a familiar pattern with Lopez coming forward aggressively, while Kambosos adopted a side on defensive stance and looked for spots to counter.

The champion threw a three-punch salvo that ended with a heavy right hand for what was likely his best scoring blow of the fight so far. Lopez landed one more heavy blow late in what was a good round for the defending champion before referee Dock fell to the ground separating the pair in another heated exchange after the bell.

Lopez stalked forward in the opening stages of round four while Kambosos circled the ropes and pawed out his left hand in search of an opening. Kambosos doubled up with a jab and lead hook while fighting well off the back foot and having appeared to weather the early storm of Lopez aggression. “He’s tired,” yelled out the Kambosos corner team as their man circled the ring, landing jabs before both men engaged in a close quarters firefight to end the round.

“The further away you are, the worse it is for you” said Lopez Sr. in the corner, encouraging his son to walk down the challenger and close the distance. Following instruction to a tee, Lopez walked forward and landed a heavy right hand to open round five before Kambosos circled the ring and fired out jabs off the back foot. Both men traded thudding blows in the final minute of the round before Lopez held Kambosos in a headlock to force a separation from referee Dock.

“As he steps in, I need that left and right hand,” said trainer Javiel Centeno to Kambosos, encouraging the challenger to counter-attack and prevent Lopez from relentlessly applying pressure without consequence. As Centeno spoke calmly, the corner team of Kambosos were working on damage that was starting to show on the right eye of the challenger.

Round six followed the now familiar pattern of Lopez stepping forward to attack, while Kambosos countered with stinging jabs and found a home for a stiff right hand in the first minute of the round.

Every Lopez attack was now being met with counter strikes, and Kambosos showed his confidence by winding up his right hand after landing a blow late in the round. It was another good round for Kambosos, but his corner team had work to do as he returned after the round with blood flowing from his left eye.

Lopez stepped forward behind a sharp jab in round seven, but Kambosos appeared to have found his range and consistently landed counter punches, including a heavy right hand and a solid uppercut. As the round ended, Kambosos continued to grow in confidence and taunted the champion before returning to his corner in high spirits. “Round by round,” repeated the father of Kambosos in the corner, urging his son to focus on one round at a time.

Both fighters came out for round eight with accumulating facial damage, but neither took their foot off the gas, Lopez continuing to come forward aggressively while the challenger struck back with a three-punch flurry to freeze the champion in his tracks halfway through the round.

Lopez landed a body blow before Kambosos hit back with a burst of punches to interrupt any momentum for the champion. Both men threw leather with intent to end the round with Lopez stinging Kambosos with a blow that may well have swung the round in the champion’s favor.

The defending champion landed a stiff left hand in round nine, only for Kambosos to respond by finding the target with two body blows. Kambosos continued to find the target with sharp counter blows before a heavy right hand from Lopez staggered the Australian challenger.

Lopez landed two more scoring blows before Kambosos countered well and cleared his head, grabbing onto a clinch in the final seconds of the round. The heavy punch likely made it another 10-9 round for Lopez and the fight entered the final quarter with the result well and truly in the balance.

In the opening minute of round 10, Lopez continued to apply pressure, and the counter punches from Kambosos appeared to slow down. The Australian challenger was on the floor a minute into the round as Lopez landed a right hand to the temple, with Kambosos getting up to receive an eight count before continuing.

Lopez surged forward looking for the finish, but Kambosos swung back and grabbed onto a clinch as he tried to survive the onslaught. Kambosos continued to throw back with blood streaming down his face and survived to hear the bell as round 10 ended with the fight dead even (94-94) on this author’s scorecard.

Kambosos looked to have regained his composure in round 11 but Lopez landed a flush left hand to the jaw in the opening minute. Kambosos settled back into a pattern of landing counter punches as a significant cut opened up on the left eye of Lopez forcing referee Dock to call a timeout and have the ringside doctor check on Lopez. When the fight resumed, Kambosos landed multiple right hands onto the cut as the round ended.

George Kambosos Jr., Teofimo Lopez Jr boxing image / photo

The corner of Lopez worked furiously to stem the bleeding between rounds, but blood was still flowing down the face of the champion as the final round began. Lopez continued to stalk the challenger in the final minute of the fight but did not appear to carry the same venom as Kambosos continued to land counter punches on the wounded left eye. Both men swung punches with intent as the final bell rang in what had been one of the best fights of 2021, leaving a nervous tension in the crowd as the final scores were calculated.

After a nervy wait for both fighters, David Diamante read out the final scores, with Frank Lombardi scoring it 115-111 in favor of Kambosos. The battered and bloodied face of Lopez looked aghast at that score before tension heightened as Don Trella was reported to have scored the bout 114-113 in favor of Lopez. As Kambosos raised both his hands in anticipation, Diamante read that Glenn Feldman had scored the bout 115-112 in favor of the Australian, crowning Kambosos as the new IBF, WBO, WBA, and Ring Magazine world champion.

Kambosos celebrated his win with his team and father while draped in his new belts, holding up his finger and stating “against all odds” into the camera in recognition of the seismic upset he had just registered.

WHAT THEY SAID

When asked in the ring by DAZN about how he pulled off the upset, Kambosos pointed to the unerring belief he has shown his entire career. “Have I changed all week? Have I changed my whole career?” the new champion asked Chris Mannix. “Never, I believed in myself, I backed myself, and I said it. You might not believe it, but I believe in myself and look at me now I’ve got all the jewels. I’m not the King, I’m the Emperor because I come to every other country, and I take them out.”

When asked about the first-round knockdown, Kambosos gave a fascinating insight into the depth of his preparation and study of the sport. “Cus D’amato said a great saying when Muhammad Ali fought unbelievable puncher Joe Frazier. Muhammad Ali rang D’Amato and said ‘what do I do.’ You hit him with the best right hand you’ve ever thrown in your life in the first round, and you change the fight, and that’s what I did; I had that vision in my head.”

The newly crowned ‘Emperor’ of the lightweight division then paid an emotional tribute to his late Grandfather, who passed away during training camp, as well as his father and wife, who were sharing the moment in the ring with him.

An unsportsmanlike Lopez failed to accept defeat with dignity and crashed the interview, taking the microphone and claiming “I won tonight man and everybody knows that, the referee raised my hand, I don’t care what anybody says, I won tonight.” Continuing his rant, Lopez questionably claimed that “I ain’t no sore loser, I came here and did what I had to do.”

It was telling that the heavily pro-Lopez crowd during the fight booed when he claimed on the microphone that “everybody knew I won tonight.” When asked by Mannix if he thought the fight was close, Lopez responded, “I don’t believe that at all; I score it 11-2 (sic).”

Kambosos rounded up the interview by referring to the intent of Lopez to move up to the junior welterweight division. “You gotta move up brother, you’re a bit delusional. I won the fight, I got the belts, move on.”

When asked by Mannix if he felt that this was his last fight at lightweight, Lopez gave a telling response. “I’ve been feeling this for two years now; they’ve been draining me the whole time, man. I stood here when I should have just dropped the belts, like everybody else did when they won but no excuses.”

WHAT NEXT FOR THE WINNER

There is one belt in the lightweight division that Kambosos does not now own, the WBC title that Devin Haney will defend next weekend against Joseph Diaz in Las Vegas. Kambosos suggested he may attend that fight making a unification matchup with the eventual winner an appealing next step.

WHAT NEXT FOR THE LOSER

“We’re going to go up to 140lbs, get a fight in February and then fight Josh Taylor; this doesn’t change anything,” said the father of Lopez after the fight. Scotsman Taylor holds all four belts at junior welterweight and is also the reigning Ring Magazine champion in the division. It is possible that an unranked opponent could be selected to allow Lopez to find his feet in the division, or a fighter on the lower end of the top 10 such as fellow American Mario Barrios could serve as a prelude to challenging Taylor.

Author’s Scorecard (round by round)

Lop-Kam

Rd1: 8-10

Rd2: 17-20

Rd3: 27-29

Rd4: 36-39

Rd5: 46-48

Rd6: 55-58

Rd7: 64-68

Rd8: 74-77

Rd9: 84-86

Rd10: 94-94

Rd11: 103-104

Rd12: 112-114