Bradley’s breakdown: Haney must resist being drawn into a fight by Kambosos

Boxing

Lightweight champion George Kambosos Jr. will defend his world titles at home in Australia on Saturday against Devin Haney (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET with prelims on ESPN+ at 7:30 p.m. ET).

More than 50,000 fans are expected at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne to root for the local hero, who took the belts by defeating Teofimo Lopez last November. But Kambosos will be the underdog against Haney, according to Caesars Sportsbook.

Kambosos (20-0, 10 KOs) has taken the long road to become champion, fighting outside his home country since 2017. Before the Lopez fight, he’d fought in Athens, Greece, New York and Wembley Arena in London, where he outpointed Lee Selby to set up the title fight against Lopez.

Haney (27-0, 15 KOs) turned professional at age 17 and fought 10 of his first 15 fights in Mexico. He won the WBC interim lightweight title against Zaur Abdullaev in 2019 and was then elevated to full champion when the WBC decided to name Vasiliy Lomachenko its “franchise” champ. And while Haney has defended that belt four times, there are doubters because he didn’t win the belt by defeating another champion. This is his opportunity to prove his status.

Former two-division champion and current ESPN boxing analyst Timothy Bradley Jr. breaks down the fight and picks the winner. ESPN betting analyst Ian Parker also provides his take.

How Kambosos controls his opponent

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George Kambosos Jr. shares his journey from being an unheralded Australian prospect, a bold move to the United States and now a world title defense on home soil against Devin Haney.

This is a tough fight to predict. It’s crazy to me that Haney is the favorite. The oddsmakers are underestimating Kambosos. I believe he’s like a snake charmer — in and out of the ring. He has a unique way of controlling his opponents, abusing them verbally and getting under their skin outside the ring while owning the center of the ring once inside it.

There are two parts to Kambosos. He’s really good on the mic, and his work there gets his opponents to fight the fight he wants to fight. We saw this against Teofimo Lopez. He got under Lopez’s skin, and Lopez went into the bout out of control. Kambosos was able to put him on the seat of his pants in Round 1 and control the fight for the most part. Everything he does, Kambosos does with a purpose.

Kambosos’ whole game is built on manipulation and deception. Kambosos doesn’t have the fastest hands, like an Amir Khan or a Floyd Mayweather, but he’s quick-fisted and uses his opponent’s offense to his advantage. He’s a counterpuncher, and his bait, believe it or not, is his low guard. If you watch his fights, you notice he carries his hands kind of low. The right hand is a bit below his chin, left hand down low, and what people don’t realize is that is bait. He’s allowing you to see holes and he wants you to throw punches so he can counter.

When you don’t have your hands all the way up, your peripheral vision is clearer and you are able to see the punches coming. I’ve noticed a lot of fighters that are slick counterpunchers tend to have their hands low so they can see punches coming their way. It also allows them to get out of the way or step back and counter from various angles. Kambosos is great at that.

I’ve also noticed that he takes small steps inside the ring, and when you take those short steps you are looking to pounce, looking for opportunities to land offense and take advantage of what’s coming your way. Kambosos is skilled at reacting to what’s going on and it requires very little thinking. He just needs to be sure he’s at the proper distance and that any punch he sees coming, he has a set reaction.

Kambosos is like a shutdown corner in the NFL attempting to intercept any ball that comes his way. You bring your left hand back low, he’s looking to time you over the top. You drop your right hand, he’s looking to counter. You’re jabbing at him, he’s going to try to take that jab away from you. That way he disables his opponent’s offense.


How do you beat a counterpuncher?

One thing you can do against a prolific counterpuncher, one who is also aggressive and can fight off his back foot, is have a great jab. I don’t really like to talk about myself, but I can say I was a good counterpuncher and I could fight coming forward and I could fight going backward. I see small little things that Kambosos does that I was pretty good at, too. And he’s underestimated because you don’t see anything that really stands out about him — not one thing — but I see why he became the unified champ.

What Haney is going to have to do is dominate the fight with his jab. The jab is one of the most frustrating things for a counterpuncher. It doesn’t matter whatever you are looking to do, when you get hit in the face with the jab, it’s an automatic reset. It’s going to take feints and lots of jabs just to get some offense from Kambosos and then make him miss and pay.

Haney is going to have to not only be first but also be last — and finish his combinations. When Kambosos strikes, he strikes fast and hard and it is in combination form. But he’s there in front of you right after, ready to be hit. Haney is going to have to take advantage of that. Be first and also be last, and look for opportunities when Kambosos is not set, is not ready. Haney is going to be able to set up that with his feints and his probes. Touch him, touch him, touch him and use various jabs, which Haney has.

I see Haney having a chance to land his jab because, if you look at the way Kambosos fights, a lot of his weight is on his front foot. He leans forward a lot and he’s always ready to push off to explode, so a lot of his weight transfers over to his front leg. When he leans forward, it brings his face a little bit closer to the jab. And while all that is set up for deception, to make you miss and make you pay, he will be bringing his chin closer to the jab of Haney, who is very accurate with his educated jab. He should be able to land it effectively against Kambosos.


The left hook might be the key

I see a right hand that can land for Kambosos over the top, and I also see Kambosos’ left hook being a problem for Haney. Kambosos shoots the left hook off straight shots, so he’ll jab and then hook and he’ll occasionally lead with the left hook, too. Haney typically works out of the Philly shell (lead hand across your body and back hand close to your chin), and sometimes he misplaces his hands by dropping one too much or by not covering his chin. I think Kambosos is going to take advantage of those opportunities.

I’ve seen Haney get hit by left hooks from Jorge Linares several times, and that’s a shot that Kambosos should be looking for. That can also help Kambosos transfer his weight back onto his right leg, and if Haney shoots the jab after Kambosos lands his left hook, Kambosos will be in position to land his overhand right.

I see the left hook being a really good weapon for Kambosos. If Kambosos wants to win this fight, he has to take the jab away from Haney. Counter it in order to take it away as much as possible.

How does Kambosos take away the jab from Haney? There are a lot of ways, but distance control is going to be very important. He can knock the jab down, deflect it and misdirect it, which he knows how to do. A lot of people don’t see what Kambosos does. He will flood the space with his lead hand, almost like a probe. He will stick it out, he’ll block traffic just by sticking a jab into that space to take away the jab of his opponent and any kind of offense coming back. We call that punch traffic; you punch toward the traffic so you can deflect a lot of the offense coming your way. He clogs that space a lot of the time with his lead hand. That should work against Haney. Kambosos can also slip to the inside and counter him.

Kambosos is going to be looking to catch Haney off rhythm; that part of his game is why he’s so good. Lopez is a fantastic counterpuncher and was able to outbox Vasiliy Lomachenko. Then Kambosos outboxed Lopez. He lured in Lopez, the aggressor, and he made him pay for all his mistakes.

Kambosos has quick enough feet that he can get inside and counter off a single jab from Haney with combinations. And the more combinations that Kambosos throws, the crowd is going to go nuts and the judges are going to be more entertained by his offense.


What can Haney do successfully?

Haney is an ultra-technician with sharp reflexes and sublime boxing skills. He has worked with Mayweather in the past and embodied his tactics, such as the shoulder roll, the Philly shell and an educated long jab with a 72-inch reach. He understands range and distance.

Haney is a slick fighter, pretty elusive defensively after unleashing his offense. He’s not a guy who will sit still and let you hit him back. He’s a reactive type of fighter. He’s offensive-minded to a degree, and he likes to dictate the pace. I see Haney as a guy who will take what he sees in front of him, take what’s given to him by his opponent and capitalize on it.

But because of his punching power, Haney has evolved into a better inside fighter, a better body puncher. He’s evolved into what I would call a long-distance swimmer. You know Haney is going to go 12 rounds because of his lack of punching power. I’m not saying he can’t knock anybody out, but he’s a long-distance type of guy. He’s efficient, consistent, a technical operating machine. He’s so smooth with it — a natural.

A key punch for Haney in this fight, aside from the jab, is the right hand. That will be a great punch for him, one he will be able to land effectively. But there is another punch he likes to set up. He will set it up by throwing the hook and then, using the same body mechanics, he will shoot a lead uppercut right up the middle. I see the lead uppercut being a very good weapon for him in this fight because Kambosos will lean forward and will be there to be hit.

In recent fights, Haney has become a good body puncher, committed to hitting the body. When you do that, not only do you weaken your opponent and bring down his defense, it also occupies the offense of the opponent because he has to defend against it. No fighter is going to sit there and let you hit him to the body and say, “OK, I’ll hit you on top of the head.”

When you go down to the body, you slow down your opponent’s offense, too. Body punches don’t only come from the inside, they can come while fighting from the outside as well. That’s when you will see that jab from Haney. He will probe, probe, get you looking at the jab up top and then hit you down low with a jab to the body.

If Haney’s game plan is to circle and take big steps and move around the ring and dance his way to victory, I don’t see that being successful. I think for Haney to win, he needs a blend of things.

Haney is going to have to take moderate risks at the right time and take the initiative. He needs to step left, step right — it’s all about sudden movements and being set and ready to punch all the time. If you let Kambosos gain momentum and gain confidence, he can become your worst nightmare. The fact that he’s at home means the pressure is on him to perform. Haney has to shut him down, beating him at every aspect of the fight, in the inside, outside, midrange, beat him from the outside with the jab, counter him and be active. And I believe Haney can do all of that.


Absence of trainers a big disadvantage, but no excuse

Haney not having his trainer and father, Bill Haney, or his co-trainer, Ben Davison, in his corner Saturday is a disadvantage, but those are the cards he was dealt. On top of that, and with all due respect, this is Haney’s first official title fight. You have to remember he was elevated from interim champion, he didn’t win the belt inside the ring. He didn’t fight a champion to become champion.

It’s different when you are facing an undefeated champion in his backyard and you are trying to take the titles away from him. The battle is much more intense, with nothing in Haney’s favor. Everything will feel foreign to him. He’s not accustomed to being in Australia and not having his trusted team. I know this feeling because I experienced it in Nottingham, England, when I faced Junior Witter. I isolated myself and stayed close to my team, completely focused.

But Haney chose this path. He wanted to do this. The great fighters live for moments like this, because now all the odds are against him. When you fight in a foreign country against a local fighter, you don’t trust anybody. Everybody will say they are your friend, smile at you, want to give you things, want to feed you, get you to sign things — he needs to stay away from all of that and just focus on the fight. Haney has to realize everything he’s done to this point, everything his father has done with him throughout his career, has prepared him for this moment. Haney just needs to execute his game plan.

Remember, Haney’s trying to do what Kambosos already did, when he traveled to America and defeated the champion, Lopez, to win the titles. Kambosos had some obstacles he had to overcome, too. But he still did it. There shouldn’t be any excuses at all for Haney. And if he can pull this off, it will be huge.


X factor: the jab battle

Whoever dominates the jab — not just throwing it, but percentage-wise — is going to win the fight. Also, this is not really an X factor, but I’m a little worried about Haney’s chin. I saw him get buzzed by Diaz and I saw him get buzzed really badly in the Linares fight. That’s two fights back to back. It was noticeable, so I’m just worried about his ability to take a big shot. And while Kambosos is not the biggest puncher, he punches hard enough. We know the punches you don’t see coming can hurt you, and we saw Kambosos put Lopez down. Another thing is that Haney needs to try to win every single round or put Kambosos on his back. If he can put him on his back and dominate with the jab, he can get a decision win.


Who wins?

I’m going with Haney. I think he’s special. At the age that he is, 23, he has done remarkable things in his career. He turned professional very, very young. Nothing against the champion, but I think Haney is cut from a different cloth and I think he wins a split decision. A judge will give the fight to Kambosos even though Haney is probably going to win on the other cards by three or four rounds. I would say seven rounds to five or eight to four, but it will be a split-decision victory for Haney on the scorecards.


The bet, by Ian Parker

Kambosos is coming off the most impressive win of his career. He’ll be looking to defy the odds as the betting underdog in this fight, but will have his country of Australia supporting him, offering up a home-field advantage. Kambosos needs to have the perfect fight and land his power shots early if he is looking to figure out Haney. Haney, on the other hand, will have to get past fighting abroad and handle the power of Kambosos. Being a defensive-minded fighter, this shouldn’t be an issue for Haney. If Kambosos can’t land early or throw Haney off his game, he is going to be in for a long night. Look for Haney to utilize his jab and unpredictable style to take away the power of Kambosos and ultimately get the win. Bet: Haney to win (-180)

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