WHEN Gary Russell Jnr stopped decorated veteran Jhonny Gonzalez in four rounds to become the WBC featherweight champion, it was his only appearance of 2015. In the four years that followed, he made one title defence per annum. This Saturday (February 8), the Marylander puts his belt on the line for a fifth time. If the recent past is anything to go by, it could well end up being the last we see of him in 2020.
Russell has faced criticism for his one-fight-a-year pattern, yet this lack of activity has not affected his performances. Patrick Hyland, Oscar Escandon and Kiko Martinez were all swept aside early by the Capitol Heights man, but his most impressive scalp was secured on points. Joseph Diaz, who is now the IBF super-featherweight king, was unanimously outscored by the highly skilled southpaw.
Russell’s opponent this weekend – at the PPL Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania – is his mandatory challenger, Tugstsogt Nyambayar. Like Russell, the Los Angeles-based Mongolian has been inactive too. He fought just once in 2018 (a swift KO of Escandon) and once in 2019 (a hard-earned unanimous decision over solid contender Claudio Marrero). This most recent contest came over a year ago, whereas Russell was last out in May against the outgunned Martinez.
Both boxers enjoyed significant success in the amateurs, with each earning World medals at the tender age of 17. Russell won bronze in 2005, while Nyambayar took home silver in 2009. The latter also went on to achieve a second-place finish at the 2012 Olympics, though Russell’s experience at the 2008 Games ended before it had even begun when he fainted and missed the weigh-in.
As a professional, Russell is far more seasoned and has mixed with the better level of opposition – most notably the brilliant Vasyl Lomachenko. Back in 2014 when the Ukrainian phenom was contesting only his third pro bout, Russell was beaten on a majority verdict. It remains the sole setback of his 30-1 (18) career.
A glance at Nyambayar’s record highlights his punching power – nine of his 11 victims have been vanquished inside the distance. The undefeated 27-year-old is taller and rangier than Russell, 31. Mixing mettle with talent, he fires out forceful, accurate shots in quick bursts to head and body. However, he has hit the deck in the past, so can be tagged.
Russell’s primary attribute is his scintillating speed of both hand and foot. He sets up varied combinations with rapid jabs, including straight lefts, right hooks and uppercuts. He attacks up top and to the midsection with crisp counters, while his nimble head movement helps him to avoid punches. He can beat Nyambayar to the punch with his fast fists and sharp skills, resulting in a victory on the scorecards for the defending titlist.
On the undercard of this TGB/King’s co-promotion, live on Showtime, former unified WBA and WBO super-bantamweight boss Guillermo Rigondeaux, 19-1 (13) 1NC, has his first fight in the bantam division. A pointless WBA secondary belt is up for grabs as the Cuban southpaw takes on Venezuela’s Liborio Solis, 30-5-1 (14) 1NC, over 12.
A two-time gold medallist at both the Olympics and the Worlds, the exceptionally gifted Rigondeaux is renowned for his classy counterpunching style, but at nearly 40 years old, he is not the fighter he once was. Ex-WBA super-flyweight champ Solis, who will soon be 38, is also getting on in age. Incredibly, this December will mark 20 years since he turned pro. A tough and tenacious competitor, Solis will look to press the action, but expect Rigondeaux’s technical expertise to guide him to a points win.
The Verdict Fans will be hoping that Russell can buck the trend and gather some momentum this year.