Saturday night’s Showtime card will be topped by a WBC featherweight title defense, as Gary Russell Jr returns after a mere nine months out of the ring to defend against mandatory challenger Tugstsogt Nyambayar in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Russell (30-1, 18 KO) has taken a lot of criticism since winning the belt in 2015, fighting just once per year since then. His last three fights have all come in May, so this February return is ahead of his recent schedule.
Russell, 31, has also taken shots for his general level of opposition, and frustrations boiled over for him last year. He challenged name fighters in public, but none of them will be across the ring on Saturday.
He will have, however, a legitimate challenger in Nyambayar (11-0, 9 KO), a former Olympic silver medalist from Mongolia, and Russell isn’t underestimating his foe, though of course he expects to be victorious.
“If it were up to me, I’d be facing Leo Santa Cruz or Gervonta Davis, but this is what I have to face,” he said. “I’m here to defend my title in style once again.”
Russell spoke well of Nyambayar’s skills, saying, “Tug will be the best he possibly can be because he knows he’s facing one of the best fighters in the world. He has everything to gain and nothing to lose. He’s going to leave it all on the line. I think Tug is a lot more technically sound than a lot of the guys who I have competed against. I’m anticipating a tough fight.”
Nyambayar, 29, expects some will count him out because of a lack of pro experience.
“I just have to be better than Gary Russell on Saturday night,” he said. “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. I know that I’m the underdog, but that doesn’t affect me. I don’t care if I’m the favorite or the underdog.”
Nyambayar hasn’t fought in 13 months, since beating Claudio Marrero in an eliminator, but says camp with trainer Ismael Salas has him fully prepared and confident.
““I’m not worried about any ring rust. I’ve worked so hard in the ring during training camp to make sure I’m the best I’ve ever been,” he said. “Working with Ismael Salas has been very good for me and I think it’s taken me to another level in my career. All of skills, all of my power and speed, it will all be with me on Saturday. I just have to put it together for my best performance.”
Russell, who has become more outspoken over these last months, punctuated his confidence with a final statement wondering why he’s largely not considered one of the pound-for-pound contenders, and he says there will be no surprises with him in this fight.
“You should expect to see what you always see with me,” Russell said. “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.”
The answer, of course, lies in the criticisms he’s surely heard enough of: too inactive, and the opponents just haven’t been good enough for the folks who put those lists together. A win over Nyambayar might not vault him onto the lists, either, but this is not a fight anyone should be taking lightly or ignoring.