‘Trial by fire’ George Kambosos v Vasiliy Lomachenko
By Gary Todd: To be great, you have to chase greatness. To be the best, you have to want it so badly that you are willing to do anything you can to be the best. You need to believe. You need to make sacrifices, and you need to live with the mentality that nothing will stop you.
George Kambosos Jnr ( 21 fights ( 10 Kos) 2 losses ) debuted in the sport of boxing in 2013, after boxing in 100 amateur bouts, fighting, training, and working as a car salesman to pay the bills.
At the time, the sport of boxing in Australia was sporadic, with little media coverage and even less big purses for their champions. World beaters like Sam Soliman, Sakio Bika, Michael Katsidis, Vic Darchinyan, Daniel Geale, and Anthony Mundine were either thinking about retiring, actively fighting, or chasing their next payday, which usually meant them traveling to overseas lands.
Jim Kambosos was smart enough to realize this when he put the plan in place and put the question to his son, George. “ I asked him how badly he wanted it, how badly he wanted to be a world champion. I asked him if he was willing to sacrifice everything to become a world champion, and George didn’t hesitate. We had some money, but not much. “
After 11 fights in the pros, the father and son team packed their bags, left Sydney, and headed off to the Philippines to train in Manila with the legendary multi-weight world champion, Manny Pacquiao.
Kambosos would accompany Pacquiao on his roadwork runs around the hills of General Santos, and through the years they spent together in training camps, Kambosos would enter into his own ‘ Trial by Fire’ enduring, learning, and absorbing everything he could from the man known as ‘Pac-Man.’
Vasiliy Lomachenko ( 20 fights 17 wins ( 11 Kos ) 3 losses. ) debuted into the paid ranks soon after a long, grueling, but superb amateur career, winning gold medals in the world championships and Olympic gold medals in 2008 and 2012. Trained by his father, Anatoly, but only after agreeing to learn to move, to stretch, to find rhythm in Ukrainian dancing, and gymnastics, Lomachenko initially wanted to play ice hockey, but he settled on boxing. After 397 ( 1 loss) bouts, Lomachenko turned professional in 2013.
Known as ‘ Hi Tech’ or ‘ The Matrix,’ the Ukrainian southpaw wasted no time in challenging for a world title, albeit losing his second fight against the tough and experienced Mexican fighter, Orlando Salido, by a split decision in San Antonio, Texas. Salido had failed to make the weight and was 21 pounds over, but the fight went ahead regardless. Lomachenko took the defeat, hoping to get revenge in a rematch that would elude him the rest of his career.
In his next fight, he would make history by fighting and beating the highly talented Gary Russell Jnr on points for the WBO featherweight world title, and in doing so, Lomachenko would equal Saensak Muangsurin’s world record of winning a world title after only three professional fights.
As Lomachenko was on his path to greatness, Kambosos was on a road that only he could walk, fighting, struggling, training, sparring 250 rounds with Pacquiao while waiting for his chance, and in his mind, that was all he needed.
With tough points wins against the Filipino Ray Perez in Vegas in January 2019, Mickey Bey in New York in December 2019, and Lee Selby in London in October 2020, Kambosos was a road warrior, a throwback, a contender, and a handful for anyone he faced.
It was now 2020. Lomachenko had been very busy, jumping up in weight, winning the WBO junior lightweight world title, beating Roman Martinez in spectacular fashion, to then go on to defeat the fearsome, big punching Nicholas Walters and the Olympic gold medallist and world champion, Guillermo Rigondeaux, by making them quit on their stools. He then challenged the always-ready, experienced fighter Jorge Linares in New York for the WBA and Ring magazine belts in yet another weight class to conquer. There would be no quit in Linares, knocking down Lomachenko in the 6th round, which saw ‘The Matrix’ vulnerable for the first time, proving he was human after all.
Linares couldn’t exploit the weakness, and he let Lomachenko back into the fight; the Ukrainian champion kept coming forward, wearing Linares down, finally stopping him with a big body shot straight to the liver in the 10th round to capture the lightweight crown and become a three-weight world champion after only 12 fights. After two more winning defenses against Anthony Crolla and 2012 Olympic gold medallist Luke Campbell, it was announced that Lomachenko would be facing the dangerous speedster and IBF champion Teofimo Lopez in New York. COVID had hit, and the two champions would meet center ring in Las Vegas with no live audience.
There was also talk of Lopez facing Kambosos, but it never eventuated, and the Australian would have to wait and hope to get a crack at the winner.
In the fight, Lopez used his speed and movement, outboxing Lomachenko with hard jabs and lightning-fast combinations, setting the pace by going to the body. Lomachenko seemed confused, and it was a lackluster performance, with Lopez winning by a unanimous decision.
After the fight, questions were asked. Unfair questions were asked by the media and from people who most likely had never put a glove on or stepped into a ring. Lomachenko had achieved greatness, and he had been fighting for years, and arguably, maybe he had too many amateur fights, and maybe he should have turned professional earlier.
Was he burned out? Lomachenko weathered the questions, and not long after the fight, he had shoulder surgery.
Lopez was on top of the world. He was the unified champion. He had beaten the man, the legend, and he beat a future hall of fame, and he looked good doing it.
Next up was Kambosos, and after delay after delay, it was announced that Kambosos would get his chance and he would be fighting Lopez in New York in November 2021. Kambosos was a 13-1 underdog going into the fight. After his performance against Lomachenko, it was an easy assessment for the Las Vegas bookmakers. No one gave Kambosos a prayer. Kambosos and his father didn’t need or want one.
All they wanted was the chance.
In the fight, Kambosos came out aggressively, fighting fire with fire, and counterpunching Lopez, trying to stamp his authority, never yielding, and never giving Lopez the chance to muster up any confidence or get into any kind of his New York groove.
Kambosos fought the fight of his life, taking big right hands from Lopez and coming back with his own right hand knocking down the champion in the 1st round and also being put down by a hard right hand in the 10th round to Raleigh strong with the belief inside of realizing his dream of becoming the champion of the world. Going into the last two rounds, it was a close fight, and it was a case of who wanted to win badly enough. It was Kambosos who fought with heart and soul to win by a split decision to become the unified lightweight champion of the world. All the delays leading up to the fight, the family circumstances while in camp, the emotional drama, and the years of struggling, all lead to this victory.
One month later, in December 2021, after Lopez lost his titles and 14 months since Lomachenko lost to Lopez, the Ukrainian returned to Madison Square Garden to face the hard-as-nails boxer from Ghana, Richard Commey, winning by a wide points decision and, more importantly, the win put him back into the mix for more world titles with big fights against Devin Haney and George Kambosos Jnr.
On the 24th of February, 2022, it was reported that Russia had engaged in an all-out invasion of neighboring Ukraine, which sent shockwaves around the world. Lomachenko commented that boxing was on hold for him and that he would be joining his countrymen, defending his land, and fighting for their lives and for freedom.
On the other side of the world, Team Kambosos announced that they would be facing Devin Haney ( 28-0 ) in Melbourne in June for the undisputed lightweight championship of the world. Kambosos could have fought anyone, defended his titles, and enjoyed every minute as the champion of the world. Instead, he chased greatness, fighting one of the pound-for-pound, technically gifted boxers in Haney.
Again Kambosos was the underdog by many, and in the fight, Haney proved to be too skilled. He showed a superb jab, and counterpunching accuracy, beating Kambosos to the punch and winning by a unanimous decision at the ‘ Marvel’ stadium.
Lomachenko came back to boxing in October 2022, and his opponent was his former sparring partner, Jermaine Ortiz. The boxer known for his high boxing IQ and class was undefeated in 17 fights and in the fight, the fighter from Massachusetts fought well and gave Lomachenko a very competitive fight, with the Ukrainian winning on points.
That same month, Haney returned to Australia to defend his undisputed titles in a rematch and beat Kambosos convincingly to retain his status as the number one lightweight in the world.
Going into 2023, there was talk of Haney moving up in weight to fight at super lightweight then it was announced that Lomachenko would be challenging Haney and face him in a legacy fight for both boxers. What did Lomachenko have left? There were questions doubting his ability, his desire, his recent performance, and with Haney having height, speed, age, and also being injury-free, everything was stacked against him, making it the impossible dream for Lomachenko. For me, I was surprised how much the boxing media played a part in painting the picture of Lomachenko’s demise as a shot fighter. My thoughts were that Lomachenko, like all the greats in the history of the sport, could box smartly from all angles and steal rounds to beat Haney on points.
In the fight, Lomachenko did just that, outboxing and outthinking Haney in a fight that did go the 12 rounds. The judges scored the fight to Haney 116-112, 115-113, and 115-113. Haney targeted the body of ‘The Matrix ’ as it seems that could have been some weakness there, while Lomachenko focused on his southpaw jab and straight left hand in a tremendous battle of styles from two brilliant champions.
As Kambosos watched from ringside, he once again had his eye on the prize, but first, he had to take care of business against the teak tough English boxer, and southpaw, Maxi Hughes ( 26-5-2 ). The fight was to be contested for the IBO lightweight world title, and both fighters would need to travel to Oklahoma.
While Kambosos was coming back from his losses to Haney, Hughes was coming into the fight feeling confident as he was on a seven-fight winning streak, so the former unified champion would need to be at the top of his game.
In the fight, Kamboso’s timing seemed off, and it’s fair to say that Hughes fought the fight of his life, which made for a close-fought battle that went to the scorecards, with Kambosos winning a majority decision to win and become a world champion once again.
With Haney moving up to fight the WBC super lightweight champion, Regis Prograis, this opens up the doors in the lightweight division. Will Lomachenko come back again to fight? Will he come back after being so agonizingly close to beating Haney, with his wounds healed, to try again and secure his place as one of the greats in the sport of boxing?
There is talk of Lomachenko v Kambosos Jnr in what will be a tremendous clash of styles, with Kambosos being taller and also having the advantage in reach, and both fighters coming forward, like two bulls, making for an exciting fight, and as they go through another chapter, another training camp, both will endure another ‘ Trial by Fire. ‘
Gary Todd has been involved in all aspects in the sport of boxing for 30 years. He is an acclaimed international author with his books on boxing. Check out his latest book, ‘ Annie’s Boy’ Garytodd.org
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