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Boxing’s elite lightweights face complicated path forward

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Before I ever picked up the phone, the fan in me got excited: George Kambosos, Gervonta Davis, Ryan Garcia, Devin Haney, Vasiliy Lomachenko and a few others all fight in the same division.

The fan envisions fun, competitive fights, entertaining promotions filled with trash talk and a scenario where all of those guys fight the other.

And that’s where the good times end.

Because I then picked up the phone and talked to some people who are in business with those fighters and, well, let’s say I was less excited when I hung up.

In the last month, there were three significant lightweight title fights: Kambosos defeated Teofimo Lopez in New York to become the undisputed lightweight champion. On Saturday, Devin Haney retained his WBC regular title when he decisioned Jojo Diaz. And Sunday in Los Angeles, Davis defeated Isaac Cruz to hold onto his secondary WBA title.

On Saturday in New York, Lomachenko will fight Richard Commey.

After that, what happens is anyone’s guess. Kambosos was a virtual unknown before beating Lopez. Haney is a highly talented fighter who hasn’t sold tickets.

Garcia’s career has been slowed by a lack of elite opposition and, more recently, mental health issues. Lomachenko is the only one who fights on ESPN, so that could present issues figuring out a deal.

Garcia is the least accomplished of the group by a long shot, but he’s the biggest name with a huge following including 9 million Instagram followers.

Davis has shown he can sell tickets, which is a huge plus, but he hasn’t fought the best opposition. There were 15,850 at Staples Center in Los Angeles to watch Davis on Sunday. Haney fought Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas, but a large number of tickets were given away.

So all the fighters have pluses and all have minuses.

Who fights who next and will all of them meet each other? Well, it depends.

“Devin is very sensible and smart, and he understands that Kambosos is the man right now,” Haney promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sport said. “George wants to fight his next fight in Australia, and he had a standout victory and most of the belts and so Devin is humble enough to admit he’s the B side.

“So he’d go to Australia in a minute to do the fight and also solve the little question of who really is undisputed.”

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 27:   George Kambosos Jr poses with the belts he won after his championship bout for Lopezs Undisputed Lightweight title at The Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden on November 27, 2021 in New York, New York (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

George Kambosos Jr. holds all the belts — and all the cards — in the 135-pound division. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Leonard Ellerbe of Mayweather Promotions has been steadfast for several years that Davis is the biggest draw in the division, and nothing changed on Monday.

On his way home to Las Vegas from Los Angeles, Ellerbe said he’s not in a rush to determine what is next for Davis.

“Tank wants the biggest fight, and we’re the biggest attraction in the division,” Ellerbe said. “We’re not going to let any artificial narrative control what we’re doing. Tank wants to fight all of them guys, but he can’t fight them all in one night. And some of the stuff from the media, saying a lot of these are big fights, let’s be honest: Not all of them are big fights.”

Garcia called Davis out immediately after Davis defeated Cruz on Sunday. Earlier in the year, Garcia went on Mike Tyson’s podcast and called out Davis. Tyson got Davis on the phone and Garcia and Davis went at it in an entertaining war of words.

Ellerbe attempted to make Davis-Garcia then, but was rebuffed.

“Ryan Garcia is full of s***,” Ellerbe said. “He said he wanted to fight Tank and so I talked to [Golden Boy Promotions president] Eric Gomez and he said they were going in a different direction. He hasn’t fought in about a year and he keeps saying all this stuff. What he needs to do is go out and get a win in a quote-unquote tune-up before he puts Tank’s name in his mouth again.”

Top Rank president Todd duBoef said his goal is always to make the best fights available, so he said he would be eager to pit Lomachenko against any of Davis, Haney, Garcia and Kambosos.

He said he suspected that Lomachenko would want to fight Kambosos, since Kambosos defeated Lopez to win the titles that Lopez took from him.

“Our philosophy is to always do big fights and we’re down for it, whether it’s with [Kambosos promoter] Lou [DiBella], PBC, Eddie or whoever,” duBoef said.

DiBella said he’s not going to negotiate in the media and said his job is to give Kambosos all of his options and let him decide.

But he said he’s not rushing to do something.

“I think George has as much star power as anyone in this division,” DiBella said. “We’ll look at all the alternatives as to who’s next and we’ll present it to George. Ultimately, George is going to choose who he fights next after he understands the money involved and all of the other factors.”

Kambosos is a television free agent in the U.S., so that’s a plus for him. He could go to fight any one of the other contenders and not have an issue.

But it’s going to be complicated to get any deals done and not everyone is going to be pleased with the path each fighter takes.

Hearn said Australia is a key market for DAZN, so sending Haney there to fight Kambosos would be big both for Haney and for his network partner.

He acknowledged, though, that DiBella is Kambosos’ promoter, even though he won the rights to promote the Lopez-Kambosos fight in a purse bid after Triller defaulted.

“Ryan Garcia boxed Luke Campbell and then we’ve seen nothing else from him,” Hearn said. “Tank hasn’t beaten an elite lightweight yet, so in my view, it’s pretty clear Kambosos and Haney are 1-2 in the division. But I think the great thing about this is, I’m not saying four couldn’t beat one or three couldn’t beat two. There are a lot of good guys and they will mix and match differently. There are a lot of good fights to be made.”

That’s the fun side of this. The rest of it, though, is like pulling teeth without novocain.

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