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Gary Russell emerges from hibernation for annual fight

Gary Russell featherweight
Amanda Westcott/Showtime
Gary Russell sees off ‘King Tug’ but it’s a dreary affair, writes Nigel Collins at ringside

WBC featherweight title-holder Gary Russell Jnr emerged from hibernation for his annual fight, turning back the challenge of Mongolian Tugstsogt Nyambayar via unanimous decision. The most that can be said for Russell is that he won without undue difficulty.

It was a dreary affair, enlivened to a degree by the surprisingly large and rowdy contingent of Mongolians at the PPL Center. There were lots of flags and “King Tug” was escorted to the ring by a man wearing traditional Mongolian costume, carrying a pole with a metal do-dad on top and hair hanging down.

Russell did his best work in the early rounds, occasionally landing a hard head blow or two. Still, for long stretches Russell looked like he was fighting by rote, keeping a safe distance and pumping out southpaw jabs.

Although Russell’s jab hampered Nyambayar’s attempts to get inside, they inflicted little damage. According to the punch count provided by broadcasters Showtime, Washington, D.C native Russell threw a total of 468 jabs but landed only 30. Part of that can be attributed to Nyambayar’s savvy sense of distance – the other part was Russell’s reluctance to get close enough to engage on a regular basis

After five rounds Nyambayar, already trailing badly, stepped it up, backed Russell into a corner and unloaded some good body shots, his first real success of the fight. He kept the rally going in the seventh with more bodywork and a few headshots.

The rest of the match was fairly even, except for the 10th when Nyambayar drove Russell across the ring with a two-fisted assault to have his best moment of the fight.

Russell won by scores of 116-112, 117-111 and 118-110, turned in by judges Glenn Feldman, John MacKaie and David Bilocerkowec, respectively. Bilocerkowec’s score was an inaccurate refection of the fight. The referee was Gary Rosato.

The Guillermo Rigondeaux-Liborio Solis 12-rounder for the WBA’s unnecessary secondary bantamweight title provided even less combat than the main event. Rigondeaux, despite being the betting favourite, barely did enough to win a split decision.

Solis got off to a surprisingly successful start. As soon as the opening bell rang, the Venezuelan (based in Panama) backed Rigondeaux into a corner and banged home combinations to the body. When “El Chacal” slithered away, Solis gave chase and visibly hurt him with several head blows.

Solis tried to end it then and there, but Rigondeaux grabbed and clung to Solis like a limpet on a rock. After surviving the first round Rigondeaux made sure he spent as little time as possible on the ropes.

After that, Solis’ early lead came as much on the strength of Rigondeaux’s refusal to punch, as his own dogged pursuit. Very few blows connected and boos began as early as the second round.

The highlight of the fight came compliments of one of Solis’ cornermen, whose pants slipped below a respectable level between rounds, when he leaned across the ropes to administer to his charge.

Laughter and shouts of “Pull your pants up!” temporarily drowned out the booing – but the fight was an even bigger stinker.

Rigondeaux won on the basis of a single moment of brilliance. He caught Solis with a wicked uppercut in the seventh and followed with a two-handed flurry that knocked Liborio partway through the ropes for a knockdown.

Don Ackerman scored it for Solis, 115-112, but was overruled by judges Kevin Morgan and Ron McNair who voted for Rigondeaux 115-112 and 116-111, respectively. Benjy Esteves refereed.

The WBA super-featherweight title eliminator between Panamanian Jaime Arboleda and Puerto Rican Jayson Velez was everything the two headline bouts were not – a fierce two-way battle from first bell to last.

Arboleda appeared to be the harder hitter but it was Velez who staged a big finish, dropping his rival in the final round with a heavy overhand right.

Arboleda was badly hurt but got up and managed to survive until the final bell. The split decision could have gone either way, but judges Bernard Bruni and Eric Marlinski both scored it 114-113 for Arboleda, while Glenn Feldman had Velez ahead, 115-112.

The show was promoted by TGB and King’s.

The Verdict Fighting just once a year from 2015 to 2020 could be eroding Russell’s once-superb skills.

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