George Kambosos Jr and Devin Haney will meet in Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium on Sunday for the lightweight championship of the world in front of around 40,000 fans. Luke G. Williams previews a genuine blockbuster of a showdown…
It’s not often in modern times that fights for undisputed boxing world championships wind up in Australia.
Way back when, of course, Tommy Burns was massacred by Jack Johnson for the world heavyweight championship in Rushcutters Bay, Sydney on Boxing Day 1908. Even earlier, in the 1890s, the great forgotten featherweight Young Griffo engaged in several bouts that were billed as world title contests, although during these early days of gloved boxing, consensus opinion about the world title status or otherwise of such fights remains elusive.
Likewise with the ‘world championship’ welterweight contests staged Down Under in 1914 involving the likes of Ray Bronson, Waldemar Holberg and Tom McCormick.
Post-World War 2, there’s a case to be made that Salvatore Burruni versus Rocky Gattellari in 1965 was for the genuine flyweight championship of the world, although Burruni had been stripped of his WBC and WBA belts beforehand.
In contrast, there’s no doubt that Lionel Rose’s March 1969 showdown with Liverpool’s Alan Rudkin was for the undisputed bantamweight world title, and only the most perverse ‘four belt’ maniacs would demur from the view that Kostya Tszyu’s shellacking of Jesse James Leija at the Telstra Dome in 2003 was for anything other than the undisputed world light-welterweight title.
Of course, boxing being boxing (a phrase I seem to use with repetitive regularity, unfortunately) there is always some crazed zealot prepared to contest the incontestable, or dispute the indisputable – and so it is with this weekend’s enticing showdown between George Kambosos Jr and Devin Haney for the lightweight championship of the world.
Sure, the WBA super, WBC, IBF and WBO belts are all at stake, but because Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis holds a WBA regular belt (one of the most meaningless of baubles imaginable in a sport overflowing with useless trinkets) some grown adults actually possess the nerve to contend this fight is for something less than the undisputed world title.
Morons are best ignored, however, so let’s get on with previewing the fight itself instead, which is an intriguing battle of undefeated 135lb-ers, the outcome of which might well rest on which fighter is actually as good as they claim they are, and which reveals themselves to be overrated.
Prior to dethroning Teofimo Lopez as the possibly undisputed, possibly not lightweight champion of the world, Kambosos (20-0, 10 KOs) had the look – like many of his Australian fistic forebears – of a willing trier destined to fall short in the highest class.
Certainly there was nothing in the first 19 fights of the Sydney-born boxer’s career to suggest he was destined for stardom or the highest of world honours.
The first 13 fights of his career all took place in Australia, against proverbial men who weren’t even names in their own households and on the two occasions when Kambosos did finally face borderline world level lightweights – namely Mickey Bey in 2019 and Lee Selby in 2020 – he had some difficulties, only overcoming both opponents via split decisions.
Then came his sensational November 2021 showdown with Lopez. Lest we forget, ‘The Takeover’ went into that fight 16-0 (with 12 KOs), fresh from an impressive dissection of P4P king Vasiliy Lomachenko and – so he and his cheerleaders told us – on the path to inevitable greatness. Kambosos punctured those claims in emphatic fashion, flooring Lopez in round one before outboxing, out-hustling and out-working him.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Kambosos’ performance, though, was the way he recovered from a heavy and potentially fight changing knockdown in round ten, riding out the storm en route to a deserved points victory, despite judge Don Trella somehow seeing Lopez as the victor.
However, questions remain. Given the parlous state of Lopez’s health – mental and physical – that heady night at Madison Square Garden, is it possible that Kambosos was somewhat flattered by what unfolded? In short, is he a willing but limited warrior who got lucky against an off-form champion?
This weekend should provide us with an answer, for in Devin Haney (27-0, 15 KOs), Kambosos is facing an accomplished prize fighter who possesses rich technical skills. Just 23 years old, ‘The Dream’ has been touted in many quarters as the next great American fighter. WIth speed, defensive prowess and composure in abundance, Haney could well be the complete package.
However, as with Kambosos, doubts persist. Jorge Linares – thought to be a busted flush – seriously inconvenienced an unconvincing Haney last year, wobbling him badly in the tenth round, and Joseph Diaz also landed some big shots against him in Haney’s next fight.
Haney also does not appear to possess elite power at world level, and how he will react on hostile territory, with 40,000 fans largely against him, is a significant unknown quantity.
I could easily see a situation in which a fired up and inspired Kambosos closes the distance on an intimidated Haney, roughs him up, takes some shots in return but outworks him to win on points.
Likewise, a Haney boxing masterclass and wide points victory is also a possibility, with the American simply proving too skilled, too technically gifted and well drilled for the Aussie. Or we may get a close fight somewhere in between these two scenarios, which ends with a split or bitterly debated decision one way or another.
The multiplicity of feasible outcomes is one reason why this is such a tantalising prize fight. Indeed, the only outcomes that would truly surprise me would be a stoppage victory either way, for both men seem able to absorb punishment pretty well and neither are murderous punchers.
All I’m left with, then, as I try to pick a winner is a hunch. And my hunch says that perhaps Kambosos was flattered by the Lopez win somewhat, while we haven’t yet seen the best of Haney.
Furthermore, although Kambosos has sold and promoted this fight brilliantly, I have a slight sense that he may have expended too much nervous energy in this area and may – in a strange way – be too hyped up for Sunday.
Typical of Kambosos’ attempts to unnerve Haney were comments he made earlier this week referring to him as “an informer” and “a rat”, before then declaring: “This guy acts like a gangster. He’s as fake as that belt.”
Haney’s responses have been measured. “”There’s nothing he can do in the ring that’s better than me,” he said of Kambosos, “I take nothing away from him, He’s a good fighter, but I just think I’m on a whole different level.”
It is worth remembering that this is Kambosos’ first fight in Australia since 2017, and I feel that home advantage could end up being more of a curse than a blessing for him. Unlike against Lopez the weight of expectation is upon him, certainly in terms of fans, if not with bookmakers who have Haney as a close but clear favourite.
Impressively, Haney seems to have been utterly unfazed by Kambosos’ trash talk and rhetoric. Indeed, The American has seemed cool, calm and focused all week.
And what to make of the fact that Kambosos needed two attempts to make the 135lbs weight limit? The Australian claimed missing weight first time around was deliberate (“the art of war, baby. Deception”). Whether this is true or not, for me it’s another red flag that his head is not quite where it should be.
Thus my pick – albeit a tentative one – is for Haney to assert his class and win a deserved decision, probably via scorecards that are more flattering to Kambosos than they should be.