As George Kambosos Jr called into question the legitimacy of Devin Haney’s WBC lightweight belt on Monday, two Americans said the Australian only shocked the world late last year because he was fighting against an ill-prepared Teofimo Lopez.
Kambosos (20-0, 10KOs) burst onto the international map, as well as became a household name back in Australia, when he won on split decision in Madison Square Garden last November.
Australia boxing legend Jeff Fenech was one of the many pundits left surprised by the result.
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Fenech believes 23-year-old Haney (27-0, 15KOs) is the favorite ahead of Sunday’s fight, but wouldn’t be betting against Kambosos, at least publicly, following the Australian’s shock result last year.
“If I watched them both on TV, Devin Haney’s got the better skill-set,” Fenech told foxsports.com.au.
“George has got the speed and is a strong, confident guy, but he’s not the biggest guy in the weight division and I think that will count a bit on fight day. But you can’t write George Kambosos off – he’s proved that. I’m not going to be against him again.”
Kambosos was at his best with the microphone on hand on Monday in Melbourne, where the Australian played down Haney’s world title defense.
The 23-year-old might have defended his WBC title four times, but Kambosos said his counterpart was given a “present” by his Ukrainian predecessor Vasiliy Lomachenko when he was promoted to “Franchise Champion” by the WBC.
“I’ve had to go through every bit of adversity, I’ve had to earn my belts, earned them the hardest way, not like this guy (Haney) … I took the best out,” Kambosos said.
“He’s the guy with that half a piece that he parades around, so that’s what I want, that’s what I will take on Sunday, that’s the reason he’s here.
“I made this happen, I chose the biggest fights possible, I took our Teofimo Lopez … everyone knew that I was prepared to fight Lomachenko, that was done, he couldn’t make it because of his war. No problem, Devin. Want to step up? Step up. And he did, OK. But he was forced into this.
“I could’ve fought anyone, I could’ve fought the garbage man outside if I wanted to but I chose you, you’re my mandatory (challenger), I picked you.”
Top Rank official Frank Stea, who watched Haney in close quarters throughout his training camp in Las Vegas and previously worked alongside Lopez, saw his own path to the world title slightly differently.
He believes the Australian’s win late last year was against a weakened world champion.
“I think George against Lopez, I don’t know if this word’s good to use but George was fighting a disabled Teofimo Lopez,” Stea told foxsports.com.au from Top Rank’s gym in Las Vegas.
“I’m not using Teofimo’s lung issues as an excuse.
“Teofimo’s a great fighter but he’s also a very emotional human being. That night it wasn’t him.
“I heard he wasn’t training. That’s why he went out there in the first round and swung for the fences and credit to George he weathered that storm. Credit to him.
“If George is better than the credit I give him then it’s from the momentum from his last fight.”
Boxing trainer Taylor Barry, who was in Tyson Fury’s corner recently and worked with some of the biggest names in sport, also believes Lopez was not in the right space heading into the fight.
“Teofimo Lopez was going through a divorce fight week, injured hand, 30-pound weight cut the day before the weigh-in,” Barry said from his gym which he shares with his renowned boxing father, Kevin, in Henderson, just outside Las Vegas.
“Anyone’s who has gone through a weight cut like that you’re going to be a zombie, he’s a big guy, he’s a big 135 (pound), he’s huge, going through that and in and out of camps for 6-9 months , seven different locations, seven different training camps, that’s hard.
“I feel that Teofimo made it really easy for George Kambosos because it was a heavy bag with feet. He didn’t throw a lot of punches, he got hit with a shot early, he made George Kambosos look really good.
“Who has George Kambosos fought except for a washed up Lee Selby, getting a split decision win over in the UK and then Teofimo?”
Kambosos, who left the United States of America with the WBA (Super), IBF, WBO and The Ring magazine lightweight titles after his stunning upset, will put everything on the line against Haney for the chance to become the unified champion.
But Barry believes Haney will represent an entirely different prospect for the Australian despite agreeing to every term and condition of Team Kambosos.
“Devin Haney’s a different guy,” Barry said.
“He’s been sparring the highest level of guys since he was in the amateur, multiple world champs, guys like Floyd Mayweather.
“I think Devin will go Down Under and will box his head off.”