Teofimo Lopez promised to enter the ring against George Kambosos Jr. and defend his unified lightweight world championships with a first-round knockout. Lopez tried to deliver on his word by coming out firing with massive power shots in the opening frame, but it was Kambosos who scored the knockdown with a monster of an overhand right. That moment set the tone for the night and what proved to be a shocking upset as the heavy underdog scored the win by split decision inside the Hulu Theater in New York City.
Lopez (16-1, 12 KOs) picked himself off the canvas after the knockdown but spent much of the fight walking forward into flurries from Kambosos (20-0, 10 KOs), never putting together extended streaks of offense. As Lopez stuck to headhunting in the early rounds, Kambosos slipped and popped off heavy jabs and came back over the top with straight right hands.
The way the fight began was all the more shocking considering Kambosos was seen as little more than an undeserving mandatory challenger entering the fight. While lightweight is loaded with big names and top-tier fighters, Lopez was ordered by the IBF to face Kambosos or vacate the championship. Lopez had added the WBA and WBO titles to his IBF belt with a stunning upset of longtime pound-for-pound elite Vasiliy Lomachenko in October 2020 and was not going to give up a title. Lopez agreed to the fight even as fans, media and his camp laughed off the idea of the Australian challenger being a test for the young phenom.
As the fight seemed to be getting out of hand after the opening six rounds, Lopez's corner offered little by way of adjustments, with Teofimo Lopez Sr. instead asking his son why he hadn't gotten the Australian challenger out yet.
Lopez finally roared to life in the ninth round. A late right hand seemed to bother Kambosos and Lopez poured it on in Round 10, scoring with a big right hand that took Kambosos' legs and sent him to the canvas. While Kambosos looked hurt and fatigued, he managed to survive the frame to reach the championship rounds.
Despite having been knocked down in the 10th, Kambosos took over in the final two rounds, outworking Lopez and securing his upset victory in the biggest rounds of his life.
"Did I change all week? Have I changed my whole career? Never," Kambosos said after the fight. "I believed in myself. You's might not believe it, but I believe in myself. I've got all the jewels. I'm not the king, I'm the emperor, because I come to every other country and take them out, one by one."
The official scorecards read 115-111, 113-114, 115-112, with Kambosos winning on two of the cards. That was enough for Kambosos to walk out of Madison Square Garden's Hulu Theater with three of the four recognized world championships at lightweight.
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The victory ended a long saga that began in February, when the fight went to purse bid over a financial disagreement between Lopez and promoter Top Rank. The purse bid was won by Triller, with a shocking bid north of $6 million. Triller then continually rescheduled the bout, attempting to avoid conflicts with other fights and the NFL among other issues. Triller finally had to forfeit the bout and Matchroom Boxing was given promotional duties as the second-highest bidder. As the situation dragged on for nearly all of 2021, Lopez and Kambosos built up increasing levels of bad blood.
That bad blood continued into the post-fight, when Lopez interrupted Kambosos' interview, alternating between showing respect, claiming he had no excuses and stating that he clearly deserved the win. Lopez went as far as to say he believed he won 10 of the 12 rounds and suggested that higher powers in the sport were operating against him.
"I won tonight, man," Lopez said. "Everybody knows that. The referee raised my hand, everybody knows that. I won tonight. ... At the end of the day, man, I'm a true champion. I did what I had to do, I went out there and I did my best."
The response from Kambosos was simple as he invited Lopez to a rematch on the new champ's turf.
"You're a bit delusional, brother," Kambosos said. "Listen, I got the belts, I won the fight. I won it clean and clear. But I give you respect. Take it like a champ and move on. We can do it again in Australia in front of 80,000 people."
Lopez brushed off the idea, saying he wanted to spend time with his newborn son and saying the fight was probably his last at lightweight while Kambosos suggested that he'd be at Devin Haney's upcoming fight, looking to add the only title belt he does not now hold to his possession.