From a major upset in a lightweight championship bout to a 122-pound unification war, boxing offered a wide variety of exciting moments on Saturday. And that doesn't even take into account the potential launch of a new sport, altogether, by Triller Fight Club.
In an already fantastic year for the sport of boxing, this was just about a perfect night at the office across three wildly different fight cards. Let's take a closer look at the biggest takeaways from a memorable night in the sweet science.
1, Stephen Fulton Jr.-Brandon Figueroa was nothing short of an instant classic
For how rare it is to find two unbeaten champions at the peak of their physical primes square off in a title unification bout, it's even rarer to see them willingly square off in a phone-booth fight for 12 dynamic and intense rounds. Saturday's 122-pound unification bout, won by Fulton via majority decision, will likely go down as the best fight of 2021. It should also produce a second meeting between the pair of hungry junior featherweights, whether it be next or down the line in another weight class. The styles between the two exciting fighters contrasted so perfectly, but the effort from both equally left fans in awe following such a throwback tilt. The scorecards, in the end, could've gone in either direction as it was that difficult to score considering both Fulton's success landing cleaner shots from the pocket and Figueroa's inevitable rally at the end of each round by pinning Fulton to the ropes and flurrying to the body.
The fight was comparable to recent Showtime classics held in and around the division, including both the Israel Vasquez-Rafael Marquez trilogy and the classic pair of duels produced by Leo Santa Cruz and Carl Frampton. The fight not only lived up to its lofty expectations as a hard-core fan's dream, it exceeded it and was the perfect result for the network after investing so much in the division over the past year. While Fulton might very well be the best 122-pound boxer in the world and a true rising star, the results of this bout remain disputed at best given how close it was. Fulton will also have to further prove himself against fellow unified champion Murodjon Akhmadaliev, who owns the IBF and WBA titles opposite his WBC and WBO crowns.
2. Inactivity, overconfidence brings destructive end to Teofimo Lopez Jr.'s lightweight reign
Lopez, the 24-year-old phenom, suffered the first setback of his pro career in a mandatory defense of his unified lightweight titles against George Kambosos Jr., which was expected to be nothing short of a formality. Instead, it was a 12-round war in which both fighters hit the canvas. But all of the negative circumstances that delayed this fight a total of nine separate times across multiple networks (including an embarrassing purse-bid win and forfeit by Triller Fight Club) turned out to hold Lopez back. Not only did it appear as if a 13-month layoff slowed down Lopez, who was shockingly dropped in the opening round on a counter right hand, the subsequent adversity exposed a number of issues to his intangibles. Lopez's game plan was horrific from the start as he head-hunted for a knockout and never reverted back to trying to win rounds behind his jab, even after suffering the knockdown.
Lopez gave away far too many rounds by not being busy enough, including after he rallied to drop Kambosos in Round 10 only to then let him off the hook the following round. Even worse, Lopez's brash father and trainer provided his son anything but sound, championship advice in the corner between rounds. Lopez's father alternated between urging his son to go for the knockout and telling him he clearly won rounds that appeared to the naked eye to be very close. To make matters even worse for Lopez on this disastrous night, which ended via split decision, his post-fight rant complaining about the scorecards (including a claim he should have won 10-2 in terms of rounds) showcased his lack of maturity. Lopez is young enough where he can clearly grow from this setback, but a large part of it seemed to be self-induced.
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3. Let's put some respect on the name of George Kambosos Jr.
Not only was Lopez an overwhelming favorite coming in, most of the talk surrounded what round he would finish the unbeaten Kambosos in an effort to put behind him what has been a disastrous year of inactivity and the dark side of boxing politics. Instead, Kambosos' own story of persevering was greatly overlooked, especially after such contrasting life events of the birth of his first child and the death of his grandfather during the extended training camp. Even though Lopez played a part in his downfall on this night, the result only came to be because Kambosos fought the fight of his life. Not only did the native of Australia show incredible heart, his game plan was sound. Kambosos turned out to be a much better boxer and counterpuncher than advertised in a step-up performance that saw him raise his game along with it. Given Lopez's history of difficult weight cuts at 135 pounds, the future should be bright for Kambosos regardless of whether he draws a rematch with Lopez given how loaded the lightweight division is with the likes of Devin Haney, Ryan Garcia, Gervonta Davis and Vasiliy Lomachenko.
4. Triad Combat proved to be Triller's best offering yet
Triller Fight Club's hope of being a true disruptor in the boxing promotion game never truly came to fruition. In fact, it was everything from cringe to comical. But Saturday's pivot into a more hybrid style of fighting, merging boxing and MMA rules in an overall team format pairing the combat sports against one another, turned out to be pretty fun. While the idea of a triangular fighting surface with nowhere to hide is far from unique -- in fact, Triller was sued in the leadup by the BYB Extreme bare-knuckle boxing promotion, home of the Trigon -- it certainly delivered on the promise of violence and sustained action.
Sure, the broadcast was clunky, at best, with far too many outrageous claims about Triller CEO Ryan Kavanaugh revolutionizing the world of combat sports. The addition of a live Metallica concert was also a plus, similar to Triller's recent forays into hip hop, only if it lined up with your personal musical tastes. But the team format of combat legends Shannon Briggs and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson coaching their respective disciplines turned out to be decently compelling due to their personalities (which included multiple teases toward a future Triad fight between them) and the presence of the overall team scoreboard. The experiment of leveling the playing field between both sports given the piecemeal ruleset also kind of worked, mostly because of how many of the boxers on the card were either washed up, journeymen to begin with or both. Either way, this very desperate pivot from "old guy fights" and the failed attempt of a legitimate turn toward a new hybrid sport might buy Triller some time, provided its war chest doesn't run out.
CBS Sports was with you throughout the entire way on Saturday for both events, so be sure to follow along with the live results and highlights below.
- George Kambosos def. Teofimo Lopez (c) via split decision (115-111, 113-114, 115-112)
- Stephen Fulton (c) def. Brandon Figueroa via majority decision (114-114, 116-112, 116-112)
- Kenichi Ogawa def. Azinga Fuzile via unanimous decision (115-110, 115-110, 114-111)
- Ra'eese Aleem def.Eduardo Baez via majority decision (95-95, 96-94, 98-92)
- Gary Antonio Russell def. Alejandro Santiago via majority decision (95-95, 96-94, 96-94)