Inside Kambosos’ ‘eye-opening’ 250 rounds with Pacquiao … and how legend predicted Aussie’s rise
On the international sporting stage, there are few more passionate about Australia than world champion boxer George Kambosos Jr.
Born in Australia to parents of Greek descent, it was only fitting that Kambosos Jr. had the Greek and Aussie flags proudly draped over his shoulders after defeating Teofimo Lopez in November last year to become the unified lightweight champion.
Kambosos Jr. is now on a quest to become just the eighth undisputed champ in boxing history as he takes on Devin Haney on June 5 at Marvel Stadium in what is the 28-year-old’s first fight on Aussie soil since 2017.
However, in order to have his moment in the national spotlight, he briefly had to turn his back on Australia.
When the trade-off is becoming a sparring partner of none other than all-time boxing great Manny Pacquiao, sometimes national pride must be put to one side to take up the opportunity of a lifetime.
It all came about when Kambosos Jr. was in Los Angeles and sparred with Jose Ramirez and Ray Beltran, two men who had done plenty of rounds with Pacquiao.
Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s trainer for over 20 years, took a keen eye to what the Aussie was doing in the ring.
Speaking on The Joe Rogan Experience, Kambosos Jr. recalled the conversation that accelerated his push to reach the upper echelons of boxing and go against a fighter who he had known since their amateur days.
“Freddie’s come over and he goes, ‘You know Manny’s got the Jeff Horn fight,” Kambosos said.
“I said, ‘Yeah, I’m hearing about it.’
“He goes, ‘Well, you’re sparring his (Pacquiao’s) sparring partners, how would you like to go against your countryman and help Manny prepare?
“I said, “Freddie, I’m all in. I know he’s my countryman, but this is an opportunity of a lifetime.’
“Manny’s my idol.”
Horn had previously expressed disappointment at the fact Kambosos didn’t call him prior to working with Pacquiao, but later said he could not blame his countryman for taking the opportunity.
“It’s an absolutely awesome experience for him and I wouldn’t have taken that away from him, even if he asked me. I’d have said, ‘You deserve it if he’s asking you to go spar there’. It will be priceless,” Horn said in 2017.
The opportunity to spar with Pacquiao was almost cruelly snatched away from Kambosos Jr. as well, after he suffered a cut above his eye during a fight against Qamil Balla in 2017.
The incident occurred barely a week before he was due to spar and despite getting stitches immediately after the fight, they were taken out just in time.
Since then, the pair have sparred “250 rounds over three world title campaigns,” according to Kambosos Jr.
But the duo haven’t only landed shots on one another a gazillion times.
They’ve also done countless runs up the mountains and hills throughout General Santos in the Philippines.
Those dashes help to explain the absurd size of Pacquiao’s calves and even Kambosos Jr. began to notice his calves growing as a result of running alongside his idol.
Along with the bulging calves, Kambosos Jr. also gained a first-hand insight into what goes into a training camp for a boxer who will go down as one of the greatest to ever do it.
Ultimately the experience of needing to keep up with a legend like Pacquiao gave Kambosos Jr. the necessary “eye-opener” required en-route to becoming a world champion himself.
“It (the training camps) was an eye-opener to a point and it really showed me where I needed to be, doing the preparation with him,” Kambosos told foxsports.com.au.
“I’ve always been a hard worker. I’m always the hardest worker in the room and push myself incredibly hard.
“But being there with him for the 12 rounds and camp preparation, everything that he was doing, I was doing.
“It showed me that extra bit, that little bit more, that extra one per cent that you’ve got to be to become a world champion, and an all-time great pushed me a little more.
“Spending time with him and pushing hard on the road, doing the road work and doing everything we had to do, it pushed me a lot.”
Being able to train at Pacquiao’s absurd intensity was a major sign that proved to Kambosos Jr. he would be able to compete with the world’s best.
But it also led to a strong claim from the Filipino at a time when Kambosos had just two overseas fights to his name and had yet to take on the bigger names in his career like Lee Selby or Mickey Bey.
“He (Pacquiao) was saying it back then that I was ready to be champion right now back in 2018,” Kambosos Jr. said.
“So that was very inspiring and motivating for me and I knew that my time would come one day.”
That time certainly arrived in November last year, when Kambosos Jr. caused an almighty upset by defeating Lopez.
Well, an upset to everyone outside of the Aussie’s team and Pacquiao himself, who tweeted he was “proud” of Kambosos Jr. after his triumph and hoped that the 250 rounds of sparring was of some assistance.
Rumours have been flying around that Pacquiao will be in attendance for Kambosos Jr.’s bout against Haney in Melbourne, although it remains to be seen if he’ll be sitting ringside or in his corner.
Regardless, Kambosos Jr. will know that if the fight against Haney goes deep into the championship rounds, he’s already been steeled by the 12 round sparring sessions with one of the all-time greats, an advantage Haney simply doesn’t have.
Even if he briefly had to turn his back on his own country to grasp it.