George Kambosos Jr. overcame bullying and scorn to reach primetime against Lee Selby
The angle of the sunlight from the bench made George Kambosos Jr.’s shadow look more expansive than it was. Nobody looked twice at him, unless to sneer. He was a 10-year-old under 5-feet tall—and weighed 135 pounds. He could barely run from here to there without doubling over, his hands on his knees, sweat dripping from his forehead, looking down trying to catch his breath.
He walked in a toxic cloud of bullying.
All that pain, all so visible, all totally ignored.
Somewhere deep inside is the little fat kid, “Georgie Porgy.” He’s sitting there where he used to be, at the end of the bench looking out teary-eyed at the other kids playing, brooding over why they didn’t choose him.
Kambosos would like to approach that kid. He’d liked to go back in time and put his arm around him, let him know that it’s going to be okay; that one day he’s going to be a world championship-level fighter fighting at the very weight he weighed then. He’d like to tell that kid that on one special Saturday night, in Wembley Arena, in London, England, he beat a guy named Lee Selby and it changed his life again.
Selby (28-2, 9 knockouts) doesn’t know it, but the 33-year-old Welsh lightweight will be facing two fighters this Saturday night in the IBF 135-pound final eliminator—George “Ferocious” Kambosos Jr. (18-0, 10 KOs) and the 10-year-old pudgy kid who absorbed the barbed jibes that went right to his heart.
“It was hell every day I went to school,” Kambosos recalled. “I always felt left out. I was 9, 10 years of age and there was the constant name calling, ‘Hey fatty,’ or ‘fatso’ and they’re picking teams for a school sport and they don’t want to pick you or you’re picked last—or a lot of times, not picked at all.
“Then you would hear, ‘you’re fat,’ ‘you’re slow,’ ‘you’re overweight,’ and that’s bullying. The name calling and being picked last was the biggest factor that affected me. I hated it. I didn’t want to go to school. My parents wanted to protect me, but I just had to get through it. When it’s happening though, it’s too hard to control.”
Kambosos had an athletic foundation. During his formative years growing up in Sydney, Australia, he played junior footy (rugby) league. As he approached early adolescence, his body began changing. Kambosos said his Greek heritage caught up with him. His grandparents took good care of him. Both sides were Greek and they loved to feed their grandson. Kambosos gorged himself on lamb, bread and pastries.
It was hard to resist.
He’d hear, “You’re so skinny, you gotta eat.” So, he ate, and ate, and ate. Consequently, the lithe kid who effortlessly ran up and down rugby and soccer fields was packing on weight.
Alteration at first came subtly. Pants that once slid on became a struggle to wiggle into. Shirts that he used to pull down over his belly became stretched. That translated into how other kids his age perceived him.
One point of Kambosos, however, never changed.
“Even though I was picked last, the one thing that I had about me was will power,” recalled Kambosos, who was Manny Pacquiao’s sparring partner for three years. “I never wanted to cheat myself. Playing football, the coach would tell us to do laps—and I finished dead last going around the oval. But I made sure I always finished.
“I may have come dead last, but if I had to run 10 kilometers, I would run 10 kilometers. I weighed 135 pounds when I was 9, 10 and I fight at 135 today, which is absolutely insane. What happened back then created a burning desire. That hasn’t left me.
“It’s why when fighters say what they say before fights, that doesn’t bother me. I heard much worse when I was a kid; words that never leave me. My grandparents moved from Greece to Australia and made something out of nothing, and some of my drive and will power comes from them, too.”
Kambosos, 27, was introduced to boxing when he was 12. His father, Jim Kambosos, saw what was happening so he took his son to Kostya Tszyu’s Boxing Academy, in Sydney.
Just walking up the steep staircase to get into the gym was a trial for Kambosos Jr. Then, he was greeted with something else.
“It’s a real old-school gym and you walk in and the smell alone I remember was enough to make a 12-year-old get back down stairs and run out of there,” he said, laughing. “Something happened that day. I won’t forget it. My father left me and I remember him saying, ‘Look, you have to do this yourself. I’m going to leave.’ I fell in love with boxing the first day.”
Ten months later, Kambosos lost 25 pounds. Clothes he wore years ago fit. He was developing a six-pack. He returned back to footy and played at 110 pounds.
And guess who finished first when the coach told the team to run laps?
Kambosos wasn’t bullied anymore in school and he began weighing two early loves—rugby and boxing.
“I never looked back and I had to put all of my energy into one sport and I loved how boxing changed my life,” Kambosos said. “My father leaving me that day showed how much he believed in me. The kids who made fun of me suddenly left me alone. They found out I could fight, and the bullying pretty much stopped.
“But the scars never really leave. Mentally, I like to say I’m the strongest fighter I know. I could have been broken and the young, fat kid is still there. You have choices, and you go either one way, a bad way, or another way. I used that anger to create will power that I developed.”
It’s why Kambosos has created a social media platform that tells kids who are bullied as he was to stay strong and use the bullying in a positive way. Use it as motivation to get into shape, or as a driving force to succeed.
The Kambosos-Selby winner is the IBF mandatory challenger for world lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez—if “The Takeover” stays at 135.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today, one victory away from fighting Teofimo Lopez, if none of that happened to me,” Kambosos said. “Lee Selby really doesn’t know what’s going to hit him this Saturday. I’ve made a lot of sacrifices in my career to get here, and I miss my two kids (3-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son).
“I missed my son making his first steps and everything I’m doing is for my kids, and for kids around the world who are bullied. I got ‘Georgie Porgy’ for a while, and there wouldn’t be no ‘Ferocious Kambosos’ if there wasn’t a ‘Georgie Porgy.’
“Like I said, the pain is still there. It comes out in the ring.”
He went from a fat kid to running and sparring with a legend.
“When I used to train with Manny, he would tell me I reminded him of a younger version of himself,” Kambosos said. “I know Lee Selby has a lot of experience, but nothing can prepare me like a legendary fighter like Pacquiao. I have that going for me.”
That, and the memory of “Georgie Porgy.”
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter who has been working for Ring Magazine/RingTV.com since October 1997 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on twitter @JSantoliquito.