- The lightweight division has the potential to offer genuine fireworks in 2022
- Gervonta Davis, Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia all remained unbeaten in 2021
- George Kambosos Jr is now the major player after beating Teofimo Lopez
- Meanwhile, a determined Vasyl Lomachenko is on a mission to regain top spot
- Sportsmail analyses what could be a mouth-watering year ahead in the division
The lightweight division offered burst of enthralling action to see off the year as George Kambosos Jr, Teofimo Lopez, Gervonta Davis, Devin Haney and Vasyl Lomachenko all took to the ring within three weeks of each other.
But remarkably, we’re now left with as many, if not more, questions as we enter 2022, with arguably boxing’s most captivating division heading for a blockbuster 12 months, we hope anyway.
With the extraordinary array of talent on show in a thriving 135lb division, few, if any, would have picked Kambosos Jr to emerge as the major player come January 1, 2022, but after sending shockwaves around the world with his victory over Lopez in December, it’s the Australian who will dictate proceedings this year.
Not to be forgotten is a certain Ryan Garcia, who is itching to get back into the ring, while future Hall of Famer Lomachenko provided a reminder of his unique and undoubted qualities with two mesmerising displays.
In the heavyweight division, it’s Tyson Fury against either Anthony Joshua or Oleksandr Usyk we want to see. At welterweight, it’s Terence Crawford vs Errol Spence Jr. In the lightweight division, however, there are potential match-ups galore – just who will be standing at the top of the pile in a years’ time is anyone’s guess.
Sportsmail analyses the division’s six primary contenders and evaluates just what could be in store this year.
George Kambosos Jr
George Kambosos Jr has fought just twice in the last two years but remarkably now finds himself standing at the top of the most competitive division in boxing.
In his one and only outing of 2021, the Australian came in as the 6-1 underdog against the division’s latest superstar, Lopez, who had most recently dethroned Lomachenko with a truly stunning win of his own.
Regarded as the shock win of the year by many, Kambosos Jr claimed the IBF, WBA and WBO titles – as well as the WBC ‘franchise’ belt – in the final weekend of November at the Theater at Madison Square Garden.
Lopez, previously 16-0, had predicted an early stoppage in his favour and came out looking to take the Australian’s head off in round one, showing little respect to his underdog opponent as he wildly threw bombs from any and every angle.
Instead, it was Kambosos Jr who landed a huge right hand, dropping a stunned Lopez to the floor. And though ‘Teo’ wasn’t overly hurt, it was a sign that the challenger was here to compete, not just take part.
A tiring Kambosos Jr was dropped himself in the 10th but emerged the deserved winner with two scores of 115-112 and 115-111 in his favour, while the other was given 114-113 to Lopez.
he question now is: just what will Kambosos Jr do next?
Shortly after the fight, his promoter Lou DiBella insisted Kambosos Jr has an abundance of options, both in the lightweight division and in the surrounding weight classes.
‘There are a lot of potential paths and frankly, there are 130-pounders looking up at him, there are 135-pounders looking sideways at him and 140-pounders looking down on him,’ he told ESPN. ‘He has a whole continent of Australia, where he is now the man. He’s now the No 1 athlete in Australia. He’s going to have a lot of alternatives.’
Upon his victory, Kambosos Jr immediately embarked on a scouting mission, attending the fights of both Davis and Haney, who beat Isaac Cruz and Joseph Diaz respectively in bouts placed one day apart.
The widespread opinion is that Haney is ultimately the more likely of the two, given he holds the WBC belt, with an undisputed clash undoubtedly the most financially rewarding.
Kambosos Jr and Haney exchanged some words after the latter’s win. The Australian insisted negotiations could now get underway, while Haney insisted ‘talk is cheap, we’ve got to get in there and settle it’.
In good news for boxing fans, there is no rematch clause available for Teo and Kambosos Jr is not tied down to a broadcast deal, making him significantly more flexible.
There is also the possibility Kambosos Jr could take on Davis, though that seems less likely, while Lomachenko and Garcia have both expressed an interest in the fight. There is, of course, also the prospect that he will take a softer touch in a homecoming fight first.
We now move onto Haney, who retained his WBC belt twice in 2021 with wins over Jorge Linares and Diaz.
First up was Linares in May, where Haney took a unanimous decision victory with scores of 116-112, 116-112 and 115-113, despite being wobbled in the 10th and making his way back to the corner on jelly legs.
Beforehand, Haney had controlled much of the fight and looked to be strolling to a routine victory. After, he showed real grit having being stunned again in the 11th, and real intelligence to keep Linares at bay in the final three minutes.
Haney called out Teo in the immediate aftermath, but it was JoJo Diaz he faced next in December, where he arguably put in the performance of his career to date.
Once again claiming a unanimous decision victory, Haney was slick as he repeatedly slipped out of danger with Diaz looking to press him onto the ropes, while he utilised his superior height and reach to keep his opponent at bay with a sharp jab.
Haney landed clean shots throughout and once again overcame some adversity, this time in the final round, as Diaz went for broke.
As stated above, there was only one thought on Haney’s mind after emerging victorious, insisting he would be willing to fight in Australia if need be.
‘I’ll go to Jupiter if I got to,’ Haney said. ‘Come on, George Kambosos, let’s do it for all the belts. The real undisputed [champion]. Let’s do it next. No more dispute with who’s the WBC champion.’
Promoter Eddie Hearn has revealed he would like to see a bout between Haney and Kambosos Jr in May next year.
He said: ‘Realistically, we’re looking at May for Devin. I’d like to see Devin take a nice break, get back in camp maybe early February.
‘The issue we have to resolve is the travel issue with the pandemic. Right now we can enter several parts of Australia without quarantine but that could change.
‘We don’t rule out doing the fight in America or the Middle East. It’s the undisputed championship. It’s an important fight all around the world. We’ll explore all of those.
‘It’s not just, we’re packing our bags and going to Australia. That’s where George would like to do it. We have to be represented properly in this situation as well, make sure it’s the right situation for Devin Haney to be in. There might be many offers.’
If Haney can’t land a fight with Kambosos Jr, another option could be Lomachenko next. The pair have engaged in a social media spat in the past.
Up next is Gervonta Davis, who also got out twice in 2021, first with a stoppage win over Mario Barrios, before a difficult points win over Cruz.
With Floyd Mayweather on his side, Davis has emerged as one of the most exciting fighters in world boxing, with 24 of his 26 wins coming by knockout. At lightweight, that’s pretty sensational.
In June, the American became a three-weight world champion by stopping Barrios in the 11th round, having knocked the champion down twice in the eighth. He claimed the WBA (regular) super-lightweight belt with the victory.
Next up for ‘Tank’ was his points win over Cruz, back down at lightweight, where he largely failed to impress as he went a full 12 rounds for the first time in his career, having stopped his previous 16 opponents and last gone the distance in a six-rounder back in 2014.
Davis was the deserved victor, but it wasn’t as dominant a performance as anticipated, with the significant underdog Cruz proving his credentials at the top level of the division. Tank insisted an injured hand was the reason he couldn’t claim another stoppage win.
Regardless, WBA ‘regular’ lightweight champion Davis has since vacated his belt at 140lb, instead focusing on the 135lb division and potentially setting up a showdown against Kambosos Jr.
Who Tank will actually fight next remains to be seen. He failed to give a specific name in the immediate aftermath of his win over Cruz.
‘Any one of them top guys,’ Davis said. ‘I feel as though I’m the best at 135. You know, I think I’m the best at, you know, what I do. I feel as though none of them guys can beat me. And time will tell.’
A possibility, though the youngster would surely need an interim fight, is Ryan Garcia, who called Davis out after his win.
‘We all know Luke Campbell is better then all of tanks opposition,’ he wrote on Twitter. ‘Tank can’t beat me he knows that and Mayweather knows that. I’m too fast and I got to much accuracy, come on Mayweather you can’t protect him forever.’
Meanwhile, a certain Lomachenko has also insisted he would be interested in a fight.
After Lomachenko’s unexpected defeat to Lopez last year, the Ukrainian has reminded us all just why he’s so high in the pound-for-pound rankings with his performances over the last 12 months,
Lomachenko was first out in June, where he put in a highly impressive display in a stoppage win against Masayoshi Nakatani.
It was his first appearance since losing his WBO, IBF and WBA belts, but Lomachenko looked every bit as brilliant as ever, with referee Celestino Ruiz calling a halt to proceedings in the ninth, with Nakatani receiving unnecessary punishment, having been floored in the fifth.
Lomachenko had undergone surgery on his shoulder two days after his defeat to Teo, having come into the bout carrying an injury, and he certainly looked a different fighter out there against Nakatani.
Next up was Richard Commey, who he beat by unanimous decision with a masterful performance in December.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist and three-weight champion was at his scintillating best as he dropped a game Commey in the seventh – even imploring his opponent’s corner to pull their fighter out before cruising to a wide victory.
Speaking after the fight, Lomachenko insisted it’s Kambosos Jr he wants, but admitted there are other fights that could be made.
‘I will go anywhere I need to go to fight him (Kambosos Jr),’ he said. ‘I need this chance. And if God gives me this chance I’ll take it.’
Speaking of the rest of the division, he added: ‘I said before I don’t like talking about myself. We have in this weight division we have a lot of great fighters. We have a lot of top fighters. So we can organise a lot of great fights in the future.’
Crucially, Lomachenko – ranked No 1 by the WBO and WBC – is expected to become mandatory challenger for Kambosos Jr, with Top Rank’s Bob Arum believing the WBO could order a fight next.
There’s nothing guaranteed, but that could well be his next fight.
We come to Ryan Garcia, the only lightweight of the six that didn’t fight towards the backend of 2021.
After overcoming a huge early knockdown to beat Britain’s Luke Campbell in January, claiming his most impressive victory to date, Garcia endured a difficult rest of the year.
The 23-year-old pulled out of his July 9 bout against Javier Fortuna to ‘manage my health and wellbeing’, having previously opened up on his mental health struggles.
‘I’ve decided to take some time off to focus on becoming a stronger version of myself,’ he wrote on Instagram. ‘I hope to be back soon and am looking forward to stepping back into the ring when I am my healthiest self.’
Garcia was then forced to withdraw from an eagerly-anticipated bout against JoJo Diaz after sustaining a wrist injury sustained in training, which then required surgery.
At the tender age of 23, missing almost an entire year is less than ideal for Garcia, who will likely need an interim bout before jumping in with the likes of Kambosos Jr or Tank.
And that seems to be the case, with reports he will take on Isaac Cruz – who just lost out to Davis – next, potentially in March or April.
Finally we have Lopez, who, of course, lost out to Kambosos Jr in one of the shock defeats of the year. It was Teo’s one and only outing in 2021, following his victory over Lomachenko in 2020.
Lopez had big plans going into the fight, intending to move up a weight to take on undisputed super-lightweight champion Josh Taylor, as well as epic lightweight clashes against Haney and Davis.
Those plans were derailed by a damaging defeat, one Lopez simply refused to accept in the immediate aftermath.
‘He’s (Kambosos Jr) a hell of a fighter, but I won tonight, everybody knows that,’ he said. ‘The referee raised my hand. I won tonight, I don’t care what anybody says, I won tonight.
‘At the end of the day, I’ve been here, I done that, I want to thank God, I want to thank everybody that came out tonight, look, I ain’t no sore loser, I take my wins like I take my losses.’
Lopez was fighting after 13 months out of the ring, and having been left heavily marked up in the defeat, you’d imagine he’ll be out for some time again.
When he does return, however, it will definitely be up a weight class at 140lbs. That was confirmed by his father, who was adamant his son won the fight.
‘We’re gonna go up to 140, get a fight in February, and then fight Josh Taylor in the spring time,’ he said. ‘We’re still gonna do what we said we’re gonna do. This doesn’t change anything.
‘I don’t believe in just decisions because they can be compromised the same way they compromised us in the Olympics. Everything can be bought, that’s why I teach my boy ‘you gotta take them out.’ If you don’t take them out they could do something to us.’
While Lopez would certainly need at least one tune-up fight, Taylor has made it abundantly clear he won’t simply hand Lopez a shot at his titles.
‘He can come up to 140, but he’s not getting the fight with me,’ Taylor told Pro Boxing Fans. ‘He got beat up by George Kambosos. So what right does he have to come up and challenge me?
‘He’s not got anything to offer on the table at 140 so what’s the point? Plus I would beat him up anyway, give him a good beating.’