Over the years, one fighter has managed to become a consistent entity within boxing’s featherweight division. Mr. Gary Russell Jr., the current WBC Featherweight Champion, has been patiently waiting for his time to get the matchups he believes he deserves. On a six-fight win streak, Russell (30-1) is hoping for a few more years of teaching boxers today what it means to be a defending champion.
The 31-year-old is set to successfully defend his title for the fifth time as he faces off against Tugstsogt Nyambayar inside the PPL Center on Saturday, February 8. Inside the PPL Center, Allentown, Pennsylvania, the Showtime-produced event features an interesting clash of styles. Russell has 18 wins via knockout, while the 27-year-old Nyambayar (11-0) from Mongolia has nine.
In an interview with FIGHT SPORTS, Russell gave his thoughts on his opponent and how he is different from the rest.
“You go into every fight differently,” Russell Jr. stated. “I think ‘Tug’ is very durable. He has a little punch with him, a little pop with him. I think he’s a little bit more technically sound than a lot of the guys that’s in the upper echelon. I respect any person as a fighter. Anyone that steps in the ring and competes, I have respect for. Power doesn’t really matter though if you can’t hit anything.”
Starting his career 24-0, Russell first fought for gold against Vasyl Lomachenko, facing him for the vacant WBO Featherweight Title in 2014. He lost to the Ukrainian via majority decision before rebounding against Christopher Martin Peña a few months later via unanimous decision. Since beating Jhonny Gonzalez for the WBC Belt, Russell has defended against all comers. He believes fights against other champions are possible, but they never seem to come to fruition.
“None of the other champions are willing to get in the ring and compete against me, it is as simple as that,” Russell continued. “I’ve been only competing against mandatory challengers. I’ve been fighting against the guys that have everything to gain and nothing to lose. None of the champions are willing to step into the ring and face me.”
A fight that appears to have escaped the grasp of Russell is one against Leo Santa Cruz. The WBA Super Featherweight Champion, who has mentioned a while back he would like to face Mr. Russell, hasn’t managed to make anything happen. That fight is something Gary has had on his mind for a while.
“I’ve held the title for over five years now, it is definitely something that should have been happening,” Russell stated. “I’m not sure if Leo (Santa Cruz) didn’t want to do it, the management or the promotional team that didn’t want to do it, but for whatever reason, it hasn’t happened yet.”
Besides Cruz, several other fights make sense for Russell. Not looking to move down, he sees potential fights against Gervonta Davis and Lomachenko as ones that are best for him.
“I would love a fight against Gervonta “Tank” Davis, that’s someone that I’ve been calling out for a while now,” Russell stated. “If we don’t get this fight against Leo Santa Cruz, then I plan on moving up in weight, I don’t plan on dropping at 130… I want the match against Davis, and I definitely want a rematch against Lomachenko. I feel like the only way for that to happen is if I move up in weight.”
Boxing’s politics have been it strange for fights like these not to be booked. As Russell continues to face mandatory challengers, he also continues to hope for a time when he will get what he wants. Russell sees something within boxing that doesn’t seem right with him, and he hopes that changes for the betterment of the sport.
“The fighters have got to be real fighters, they’ve got to be men at the end of the day,” Russell stated. “A lot of these guys aren’t willing to put it on the line… At the end of the day, I don’t care if somebody comes in here and they weigh 150 pounds. If they say they want to fight me, I have too much ego along with my motives and my principles, and I have too much integrity to try and stop a fight like that. I feel like that’s what a lot of fighters in the sport of boxing are lacking today… It could be a generation thing.”
Russell Jr., who is on Twitter and Instagram, won’t be alone inside the PPL Center: his brothers Gary Antuanne and Antonio Russell will also be on the card fighting. Along with the other topics discussed, Russell also talked about the Mamba Mentality following the loss of Kobe Bryant, if he has any pre-fight rituals and any advice for young fans.