Boxing’s one-hit wonders: George Kambosos Jr. needs a win to avoid getting on the list

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Just like the music business, boxing has had its fair share of one-hit wonders. George Kambosos Jr. aims to avoid having his name join the list of those who have won a world title only to quickly lose it and fall from grace, when he faces Vasiliy Lomachenko for the vacant IBF lightweight title in Perth, Australia, on Sunday morning (Saturday, 10 p.m. ET in the U.S., ESPN /ESPN+).

For some, becoming champion is the beginning of the end as they lose the belt in a first defense and their careers then nosedive. But it is too soon to put Kambosos, 30, of Sydney, in that ignominious category just yet.

Kambosos (21-2, 10 KOs) silenced Teofimo Lopez‘s home crowd in New York when he won a split decision to claim three lightweight world titles in November 2021. Just over a year earlier, Lopez had produced the performance of his life to nullify the dazzling skills of Lomachenko. But as a 7-1 betting favorite against Kambosos, Lopez was caught cold and sent to the canvas in the opening round, and Kambosos then got off the canvas himself in the 10th round to take the split decision.

Kambosos didn’t have long to enjoy life as champion. Seven months later in Melbourne, the Australian lost his belts in a first defense to Devin Haney by unanimous decision. To prove it wasn’t a fluke, Haney did an even better job in another decision win later in 2022 back in Melbourne.

A controversial majority decision win over Maxi Hughes last year set up Kambosos for his fourth world title fight in his last five fights.

Let’s take a look at some fighters that haven’t done much after winning a world title.

Heavier falls

Andy Ruiz Jr. pulled off a big shock when he stopped Anthony Joshua in Round 7 to win three world title belts in 2019 as a late substitute. Six months later, Ruiz showed up for the rematch weighing 15 pounds more than in their first fight, and lost convincingly to Joshua’s jabbing game by unanimous decision.

Ruiz has registered two unanimous decision wins since, but both Luiz Ortiz and Chris Arreola are over the age of 40. Ruiz (32-2, 22 KOs) weighed 268¾ pounds when he scored three knockdowns against Ortiz in September 2022. The Californian is due to face Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller on Aug. 3 in Los Angeles, his first fight since beating Ortiz, and is some way off a world title shot.

Joshua also ended the brief reign of Charles Martin, who entertainingly walked to the ring to face the Englishman in London wearing a massive crown in 2016. But he was far from majestic in the ring that night, as Joshua disposed of him in just two rounds to win the IBF heavyweight world title. Martin crumbled as soon as Joshua started landing.

When Vyacheslav Glazkov injured his knee in the third round against Martin in January 2016, the American was crowned champion. Martin, now 38, has so far failed to regain the same lofty status and has suffered three further setbacks.

Deontay Wilder first became champion when he outpointed Bermane Stiverne in January 2015. Stiverne succeeded in becoming the first professional opponent to resist Wilder’s power and take him the distance, but he lost a unanimous decision in a first defense of the WBC belt he had won by stopping Chris Arreola in the sixth round in May 2014. Stiverne’s career then fell apart, and he was obliterated in a round by Wilder in a rematch in 2017. That was the first of four successive defeats, three by stoppage, and he has not fought since January 2023.

Other notable heavyweight champions who lost the title in a first defense, and whose careers never recovered, include Hasim Rahman (2001). The world was left stunned when Lennox Lewis — boxing’s last undisputed world heavyweight champion in the three-belt era — underestimated and underprepared for the altitude in Johannesburg and was subsequently knocked out by Rahman in five rounds. Lewis quickly made amends in a rematch seven months later, and Rahman was never world champion again despite fighting the likes of Evander Holyfield, James Toney, Wladimir Klitschko and Alexander Povetkin.


Lighter falls

Manny Pacquiao will go down as one of boxing’s all time greats, but towards the end of his career he lost to fighters who could not sustain their success at the elite level.

Kambosos’ fellow Australian Jeff Horn (20-3-1, 13 KOs) was also a brief custodian of world titles. Horn profited from an off-night by Pacquiao, one of the best boxers in recent years, when he won a unanimous decision to take the WBO welterweight title in Australia in 2017. Pacquiao complained about the controversial outcome, but there was never a rematch. Horn won a first defense versus little-known Gary Corcoran but was then stopped by Terence Crawford to bring his reign to an end less than a year after it started. Horn never fought for a world title again.

In his final bout, Pacquiao suffered a unanimous decision defeat to late replacement opponent Yordenis Ugas in Las Vegas in August 2021. At 35, Ugas was deemed a safe opponent for the eight-weight world champion to step closer to a final big fight. But Ugas spoiled the party. Inspired by the opportunity on 11 days’ notice, and perhaps profiting from 42-year-old Pacquiao’s dwindling powers, Ugas won as a +350 underdog. Pacquiao had been preparing to face Errol Spence Jr., and the change of opponent, facing a fellow southpaw, perhaps contributed to the defeat. Ugas’s double jab proved decisive to win the WBA title. But Spence stopped Ugas in a unification title fight two years ago, and the Miami-based Cuban was then outpointed by Mario Barrios in September 2023.

Pacquiao was at his peak when the Filipino ended the brief reign of Chris Algieri. The New Yorker had survived two first-round knockdowns to pluckily fight back and earn a split decision win over Ruslan Provodnikov for the WBO junior welterweight title in June 2014. He stepped up a division five months later and was floored six times in a wide decision loss to Pacquiao. Algieri suffered further losses to Amir Khan, Spence and finally, at age 37, Conor Benn in 2021.

Miguel Cotto was one of the standout stars of the era, but like Pacquiao he ended his career in a shock loss. His came against Sadam Ali in December 2017. Ali, who had been stopped by Jessie Vargas for the WBO welterweight title the year before, was not fancied to beat the Puerto Rican Hall of Famer, but produced an inspired display in a unanimous decision upset. Ali never hit the same heights again as he lost the title in a four-round defeat to Jaime Munguia, and was then stopped in his last fight by Anthony Young five years ago.

Cotto ended Yuri Foreman’s short time as WBA junior middleweight champion by ninth-round stoppage in June 2010 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, seven months after Foreman won the belt against Daniel Santos. Foreman failed to win another world title belt despite 10 years of trying.

Sergio Mora, who sprang to fame on NBC’s “The Contender” reality TV show, won a majority decision to lift the WBC junior middleweight title from Vernon Forrest in June 2006. But three months later in Mora’s first defense, he lost the belt to a much improved Forrest by a wide unanimous decision. Mora failed to capitalize on later opportunities, as Daniel Jacobs stopped him in two rounds and then in the rematch in seven rounds for the middleweight title in 2015 and 2016.


Further back

James “Buster” Douglas, overcoming huge 42-1 odds to end Mike Tyson‘s rampage through the heavyweight division by a seismic 10th-round knockout in 1990, is perhaps the most obvious one-hit wonder in recent boxing history. Douglas, whose mother died 23 days before the fight, was inspired while Tyson was distracted. Douglas was overweight for a first defense against Evander Holyfield, who punished him in three rounds to win all the belts eight months later. Douglas was never remotely the same as he was that night against Tyson on Feb. 11, 1990, in Tokyo.

Another one-hit wonder was Montell Griffin, who had a five-month reign as WBC light heavyweight champion in 1997. Roy Jones Jr. was in outstanding form, with a skill set that made him seem untouchable at the time. Jones looked on the brink of another win when Griffin sank to a knee in Round 9, only for Jones to be disqualified for hitting his fellow American when he was down. Jones made Griffin pay in the rematch, delivering a savage first-round KO. Griffin lost two more world title fights.

Leon Spinks may have been the 1976 Olympic gold medallist, but in 1978 sensible opinion was Muhammad Ali would not be threatened by the challenger, who would be going for the world heavyweight title in just his eighth professional fight. Spinks, shockingly, won by split decision. but Ali was back in possession of his belts five months later after winning a rematch on points. Spinks lost two more world title fights and finished with a record of 26 wins, 17 losses and three draws.

Going back further, Randy Turpin’s punch-perfect display to outpoint the great Sugar Ray Robinson in 1951 in London for the middleweight world title was another huge shock. But the Englishman lost a rematch just 64 days later to the imperious Robinson on the other side of the Atlantic, and never regained the title.

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