George Kambosos Jr. has spent almost his entire career as the underdog.
Even now, as he prepares to put his four belts on the line against Devin Haney on Sunday to decide who will be the undisputed lightweight champion of the world at Marvel Stadium, it is his American rival who is the betting favourite.
But one thing boxing has taught us is to never, ever count out the underdog.
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You only have to ask some of Kambosos Jr.’s previous opponents to learn as much.
For his first 17 fights, the Australian hadn’t exactly fought anyone of international note.
But on December 14, 2019, Kambosos Jr. would finally get his chance to prove he belonged in the upper echelons of the lightweight division when he fought Mickey Bey, a former world champion and a man who held a 23-2-1 (11 KO) record at the time.
Even though Bey had been out for three-and-a-half years – his 10-second TKO win over against Luis Humberto Valdivia in a Mexican bar didn’t count, by his own accord – he still felt he would have enough to earn the win over Kambosos Jr., a man he had little information on.
“Honestly, I didn’t know much about him,” Bey told foxsports.com.au.
“I had been off for some years and I was just trying to get back. I think he was a real tough fight to come back on. I heard more about him when the fight was made.”
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As the fight wore on, Bey quickly realized that things wouldn’t go the way he had anticipated, even after the lengthy layoff.
Kambosos Jr. ultimately secured a victory via split decision (97-92, 96-93, 94-95) at Madison Square Garden in what was his biggest hurdle to that date.
Reflecting on the bout more than three years later, the former IBF lightweight champion pointed out the two elements of Kambosos Jr.’s game that “shocked” him, and it’s two traits that have perhaps typified the 28-year-old’s career to date .
“What shocked me was his conditioning and his heart,” Bey said.
“Me being the experienced guy knew in the ring, I my conditioning wasn’t great but him being younger, I figured I could get him late because he’d get tired.
“But he didn’t get tired at all, he had a lot of fire and a lot of heart.
“Those were the things that stood out to me, just his heart and his conditioning. He did have speed and all that, but I already expected that.
“But his heart and conditioning stood out to me as things I wasn’t aware of.”
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Despite Bey feeling hard done by with the result at the time, he firmly believes that Kambosos Jr. is where he deserves to be right now.
“He can fight,” Bey said.
“It’s not a mistake that Kambosos is here.
“Some people want to say he got lucky, it’s no luck. He beat Teofimo hands down in their fight. He beat him pretty widely to me, I’d say eight or nine rounds he beat him.
“He won fair and square and won the belts the hard way.”
While Bey was Kambosos Jr.’s first real test overseas, it could be said that his first proper challenge on home soil came in August 2014.
At Club Punchbowl, Kambosos Jr. – just a fresh-faced 21-year-old at the time – would take on Robert ‘Gummy’ Toomey, the Australian lightweight champion at the time.
Having turned pro in 2006, Toomey had a wealth of experience over his significantly younger counterpart and felt that, similarly to Bey, it would be enough to “take care” of Kambosos Jr.
“I think I was 32, I had the Australian title at that stage,” Toomey told foxsports.com.au.
“I think he was only 21 at that stage.
“I thought, ‘We’ll take care of him, he’s only a young pup.’
“I just thought he was apparently meant to be a good boxer but very keen on himself, very flashy, which I didn’t mind.”
But as the rounds transpired, Toomey tasted defeat as Kambosos Jr. secured the second title in his professional career with a win via unanimous decision.
So, what caught ‘Gummy’ by surprise during the fight?
“I think he was a bit more developed than I thought,” Toomey said.
“His boxing IQ I thought was on. He was fast, I didn’t feel he was really heavy hitting, but very fast and accurate.
“I’ve fought heaps of different boys, but it comes to you a bit different when they’re a bit sharper.
“Just the speed, you’ve got to adjust and transfer.”
It’s almost been eight years since they shared the ring together and although Toomey isn’t fussed at the fact he went the distance with a man who is on the verge of achieving a feat done by just seven people before him, he’s delighted at what Kambosos Jr. has done for the sport.
“No-one in Australian history has ever done what he’s done,” Toomey said.
“And it’s fact. It’s good to see that. It’s good for Australian sport.
“I think that the Australian public, if you don’t know much about boxing then not too many people know where he’s come from and his journey.
“All they talk about is Jeff Fenech’s achievements, but he’s done more than Jeff and he’s only 28.”