SAN DIEGO, Calif., February 7, 2020 – WBC Featherweight World Champion “Mister” Gary Russell Jr. presents one of boxing’s great unsolved riddles. Why isn’t the talented, longest continuously reigning world champion in boxing more of a known name getting matchups with bigger names and title for bigger payoffs?
Russell Jr. of Citrus Heights, Maryland (30-1, 17 KOs) returns to the ring on Saturday, February 8 against undefeated mandatory challenger Tugstsogt “King Tug” Nyambayar of Mongolia (11-0, 9 KOs) on Showtime in a Premier Boxing Champions event from PPL Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The three-fight telecast begins at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.
All of the televised event fighters made weight Friday with ease.
Since winning his title in 2015, Russell Jr. has fought precisely once a year. It’s become a boxing joke. When this fight was announced, it seemed Russell Jr. would be making his annual appearance earlier than usual so he could get it out of the way. In fairness, Russell Jr. has a nagging hand injury. Type “Gary Russell Jr.” into Google, and autofill finishes with “doesn’t fight enough.”
The 31-year-old Russell Jr. hears the criticism. He’s been calling out division kingpin Leo Santa Cruz, and popular but troubled sensation Gervonta “Tank” Davis.
Russell Jr. expressed respect for opponent Nyambayar, but admits he wasn’t his first choice. “If it were up to me, I’d be facing Leo Santa Cruz or Gervonta Davis, but this is what I have to face. I’m here to defend my title in style once again,” said Russell Jr. at this weeks’ final pre-fight news conference.
Nyambayar, who would be the first world boxing champion from Mongolia with a victory, said, “It’s going to be a good fight for the fans. Gary Russell Jr. is a great champion, but watch on Saturday night, when I become the new featherweight world champion.
“I just have to be better than Gary Russell on Saturday night. The past experience won’t matter. If he thinks I’m too inexperienced for this fight, he is going to be in for a surprise Saturday,” added Nyambayar. He said working with new trainer Ismael Salas in Las Vegas has taken him to a new level in his career. Salas is best known for working with Cuban fighters such as Yuriorkis Gamboa and Guillermo Rigondeaux.
“I think Tug is a lot more technically sound than a lot of the guys who I have competed against. He’s another guy with everything to gain and nothing to lose, so I’m anticipating a tough fight,” said Russell Jr., who was the first fighter to turn pro on the ShoBox prospects series on Showtime, and won his title on Showtime as well.
“You should expect to see what you always see with me,” said Russell Jr. “Boxing at its best. A great deal of ring generalship. Good boxing IQ. Hand speed. Punching power. The total package as a fighter. As a matter of fact, I’m trying to figure out why I’m not on the pound for pound list given all of that. That’s an issue.”
Someone needs to explain to Russell Jr. it’s not enough to make a single appearance every year and then retreat back to the gym and put his belt on ice. Fans have too much competing for their attention to keep Russell Jr. top of mind, particularly as he offers too much risk for too little reward to Santa Cruz, Davis, or against one of the many talented athletes from featherweight up to lightweight. Russell Jr. claims he plans to fight three times in 2020. We’ll have to believe it when we see it.
Nyambayar is no cakewalk for Russell Jr. He could be the second man to be the first in his country to win a title following Murjodon Ahkmadaliev of Uzbekistan last week. There are many similarities, including an impressive Olympic pedigree and a minimal pro record obscuring significant talent and power in the southpaw. We’re starting to get used to upsets, and we’ll call for one Saturday.
Should Russell Jr. lose, one titleholder who’d love to get in the ring with him is new titleholder Joseph “JoJo” Diaz Jr., whose single loss came to Russell Jr. Let’s see how the bout goes down first before speculating further.
Veteran talents Rigondeaux and Solis try extending their shelf life
Former world champions Guillermo Rigondeaux of Miami via Cuba (19-1, 13 KOs) and Liborio Solis (30501, 14 KOs) of Venezuela via Panama fight for the vacant WBA Lightweight Title in the co-main event. Yes, we all know the “real” WBA world champion is Super Champion Naoya Inoue. The WBA makes belts like Zimbabwe prints money.
This is the (allegedly) 39-year-old Cuban’s first professional fight at bantamweight (118 pounds). The majority of his 11-year pro career has been at 122 pounds, and he went up to super featherweight in his crushing loss to Vasiliy Lomachenko. The wisdom of doing this is hard to figure.
“I feel 100 percent and I believe that bantamweight has always been my best weight,” explained Rigondeaux. “I did well at 122 pounds, so i stayed there. My plan now is to dominate this division … I’m going to unify 118 pounds just like I did at 122 pounds. I’m excited to get started.” True to his word, Rigondeaux made weight and looked strong, especially considering his age.
Rigondeaux credited new trainer Ronnie Shields for his good results, saying Shields knows when he needs to work hard, and needs to back off. The Cuban says the pair have great chemistry and work well together, and he looks forward to a long run with Shields. “I’m going to be phenomenal in the ring … I’m a veteran in this sport, dating back to the amateurs, so I’m used to seeing so many different styles. I’m to fight the way that gives me the best chance to win.”
Making his U.S. debut, the 37-year-old Solis says Saturday’s fight will be different than his last few fights. “I’m going to come with everything on Saturday. I come to fight and I come to win. I’m sure Guillermo is the same. The difference will be my determination to win this fight.
“I don’t think anyone’s weight or which division we fought in the past will be an advantage. I’m sure he could have always fought at 118. The person with the advantage is who wants it more … I’m not leaving that ring without a championship.”
Given their age-defying appearance at the weigh-in and Rigondeaux’s aggressive approach in his last bout, this is a more intriguing matchup than first imagined. Past their prime years, skills can suddenly be elusive. It will come down to who wants it more. Rigondeaux folded in a “no mas” moment against Lomachenko. His career will be over if he does it again.
Super featherweight crossroads fight: Arboleda vs. Velez
Panamanian prospect Jaime Arboleda of Miami (15-1, 13 KOs) and veteran Jayson Velez of Puerto Rico (29-5-1, 21 KOs) via in a 12 round WBA Super Featherweight title eliminator in the opening bout.
“This is a great chance to get one step closer to my dream of becoming a world champion,” said Arboleda. “I know what I have to do and I’ve prepared every day to make sure that I fight my best on Saturday night.
“We have a lot of respect for each other and we’re looking forward to Saturday night. Don’t miss this card because it’s going to be action-packed from start to finish.”
Velez first fought on Showtime in 2012. “Don’t miss this fight because this is going to be great. There’s going to be a lot of action. Every time I step into the ring, win or lose, I will leave everything in there. I fight with my heart and I fight for Puerto Rico.”
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is a veteran boxing observer covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on social media at@PRProSanDiego.
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