Gary Russell Jr had a relatively short break from the ring this time around, only taking nine months to return from his last bout, and retained his WBC featherweight title with a decision victory over mandatory challenger Tugstsogt Nyambayar tonight on Showtime from Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Russell (31-1, 18 KO) won on scores of 116-112, 117-111, and 118-110. Bad Left Hook had the fight 115-113 and 116-112 for Russell on two separate cards.
Russell, 31, has fought just once a year from 2015-19, and fans will hope to see him hit the ring again before we turn over to 2021, but there’s certainly no guarantee of that; in fact, the odds are pretty obviously against it, but one can dream.
Russell did show some signs of fatigue in the latter stages of this bout, but his early work was plenty enough to secure a legitimate win, as he outboxed and out-quicked “King Tug” (11-1, 9 KO) in the early going, frustrating the 2016 Olympic silver medalist from Mongolia and building a clear early lead.
Nyambayar, 27, did acquit himself pretty nicely overall, however, proving he’s a legitimate contender at 126 pounds, and he looked like a guy who could certainly win a world title against a different opponent. Russell didn’t dominate this fight, and talent-wise Russell may well be the best fighter in the division, even with the inactivity and criticism from observers.
“We put the work in in the gym,” Russell said of his win. “I knew we had a very, very tough opponent. He had everything to gain and nothing to lose, but we focused, and I’m one of the longest-reigning champions for a reason.”
Asked what he felt the difference was, Russell explained, “Ring generalship, hand speed, boxing IQ. He’s only had 11 fights. Of course he was a silver medalist, but he’s only had 11 fights. My experience overcame him.”
Nyambayar, who had a strong contingent of Mongolian fans in the house, had no complaints about the outcome.
“It wasn’t my night,” Nyambayar said through an interpreter. “He was the better man tonight. I didn’t get my work done. He’s a great champion. I was waiting for him too much. That was my mistake.”
Russell, who has been uncharacteristically calling for fights against fellow titleholders and bigger names for the last nine months, still has high hopes for his next outing, whenever it comes, and he continues to insist he wants a rematch with the one man who’s beaten him as a professional.
“I want Lomachenko again,” Russell said. “That’s not for the fans, that’s something for me.”
He says he’s willing to go from 126 to 135 for a fight with Lomachenko, or for any big fight.
“We wanted Leo Santa Cruz, we wanted Gervonta Davis. If we gotta move up in weight for these guys to think they have a chance, we’ll do that. Realistically, I think we can get Leo Santa Cruz next. If not, we’ll jump two weight classes, forget 130, we’ll go straight to 135.”
Santa Cruz, for what it’s worth, is the current WBA titleholder at 130, while Davis moved up to 135 in December. Both of those fighters are under the PBC umbrella, as Russell has long been, so in theory they’re really not hard fights to get done, but boxing doesn’t always go by what works in theory.