Gary Russell Jr will finally be back in action on April 16, as the WBC featherweight titleholder will defend his belt against Patrick Hyland in a Showtime main event from Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut.
Russell (26-1, 15 KO) was set to face Hyland (31-1, 15 KO) on March 12, but that entire card was scrapped once Keith Thurman pulled out of his fight with Shawn Porter. The rescheduled bout will be paired with another IBF title fight, as Jose Pedraza (21-0, 12 KO) defends his super featherweight title against Stephen Smith (23-1, 13 KO). Smith will be looking to become the second of the four fighting Smith brothers to win a world title, following Liam last year.
Russell-Hyland is, to be entirely honest, not the sort of fight anyone wanted to see Russell in next, but is kind of what we've gotten used to at this point. The 27-year-old Russell has loads of talent, and he showed it when he beat Jhonny Gonzalez last March to win the WBC belt, a thorough beating that ended with a fourth round stoppage. But Russell's opposition has been pretty weak apart from that fight and his 2014 loss to Vasyl Lomachenko, and facing Hyland in his first title defense doesn't figure to change the perception of those who feel he's been matched safe.
Hyland, 32, has won four straight since a 2012 loss to Javier Fortuna, where he was more competitive than many expected, but the win streak has come against marginal opposition. The Irishman should certainly be expected to give an honest effort, but will be expected to be overmatched, too.
Pedraza-Smith is really the more interesting matchup here. Puerto Rico's "Sniper" Pedraza won the vacant IBF 130-pound strap last June, beating Andrey Klimov, and defended in October, controversially defeating veteran Edner Cherry by split decision. Smith, 30, is on an 11-fight win streak following a 2011 loss to current IBF featherweight titlist Lee Selby. He last fought on September 19, beating Devis Boschiero (TKO-6) in Liverpool.