Greek-Australian George Kambosos Jr won Boxing’s IBF, WBA and WBO Lightweight titles from Teófimo López in a seismic upset on Saturday night at the Theater at Madison Square Garden.
The ferocious Spartan from Sydney, who started out as a 6-1 underdog, dropped López in the opening round, then came off the mat himself in the 10th to win a split decision before a rollicking crowd of several thousand spectators who were almost entirely in the champion’s corner.
Two of the ringside judges handed down scores 115-112 and 115-111 for Kambosos while the third scored it 114-113 for López.
The gripping encounter was the upset of the year and, quite possibly, the fight of the year.
“I believed in myself, I backed myself,” Kambosos said in the immediate aftermath. “I said it time after time: 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 one by one.”
Kambosos (20-0, 10 KOs), an unbeaten 28-year-old who earned his crack at the belts with a career-best win over the Welshman Lee Selby last year, made the most of the delayed opportunity, enduring López’s smothering onslaught in the early rounds, scoring a knockdown against the run of play and rallying from near-defeat to deliver the finishing kick of a champion in his opponent’s hometown.
“When Muhammad Ali fought an unbelievable puncher in Joe Frazier, (he) rang Cus D’Amato and said, ‘What do I do?’” Kambosos said.
“And (D’Amato) said, ‘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 in my head. That was my mentality: ‘I’m going to hit this guy clean, I’m going to hit hard and I’m going to put him down.’ And the fight changed after that.”
Kambosos: “Never retreat, never surrender” tattoo
Kambosos was born in Sydney, Australia to parents of Greek descent. His paternal grandparents moved from Sparta to Australia and Kambosos has the famous Greek Warrior war cry “Never retreat, never surrender” tattooed on his body in homage to his heritage.
He began playing junior rugby league for the Gymea Gorillas at a young age, but was often bullied as a child for being overweight, so his father enrolled him in boxing classes at 11 years of age to improve his fitness.
He elected to pursue boxing seriously, and began his fighting career by amassing 85 wins in 100 amateur fights before turning professional.