ALLENTOWN, Pennsylvania – Gary Russell Jr. justifiably seems resigned to the likelihood that he won’t get the featherweight title unification fight he has wanted for a few years.
Leo Santa Cruz, Russell’s longtime target, apparently is headed toward a pay-per-view fight against Gervonta Davis sometime this spring. If Russell successfully defends his WBC featherweight title against mandatory challenger Tugstsogt Nyambayar on Saturday night and Davis-Santa Cruz occurs next, Russell doesn’t think there’s another bout big enough to keep him in the 126-pound division.
If the aforementioned scenario happens, Russell will give up the WBC featherweight title he won nearly five years ago and jump up two divisions to compete at lightweight in his following fight.
At this point, Russell has grown weary of calling out Santa Cruz (37-1-1, 19 KOs), a four-division champion who still owns the WBA’s “super” title in the featherweight division. Santa Cruz, who won the WBA’s “super” 130-pound championship in his last fight, seems much more interested in battling Baltimore’s Davis (23-0, 22 KOs), the WBA’s “super” champion in the lightweight division.
“We’ve been in the same weight division for the last four years, and I’ve had the title for the last four years,” Russell told a group of reporters Thursday after a press conference at the Renaissance Allentown. “What’s the reason for him not fighting me then? I have the most prestigious title there is in the sport of boxing, which is the WBC. It’s one of the most noticeable sanctioning bodies in the sport of boxing right now. Why is it that none of the other champions have been trying to get this title? Because I’m the one that’s holding it. It’s a reason for that.
“So, I guess I’ve gotta push these guys’ backs against the wall and make them fight. And I’m actually getting to the point where I’m tired of picking on people that’s not willing to fight. I’m tired of picking on Leo Santa Cruz. If he don’t wanna fight, that’s not a problem. I’ll move up in weight, like I said. We’ve got bigger fish to fry.”
The 31-year-old Russell (30-1, 18 KOs), of Capitol Heights, Maryland, also emphasized that he fully understands that he has a formidable foe in front of him in Nyambayar, an unbeaten Mongolian who won a silver medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. The 27-year-old Nyambayar (11-0, 9 KOs) hasn’t faced anyone as talented or accomplished as Russell, but he is considered a live underdog entering a 12-round main event Showtime will televise from PPL Center (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
“I think styles make fights,” said Russell, who’s a 4-1 favorite. “I think he’s technically better than some of the guys I’ve competed against. I would love to see him fight against Jo Jo Diaz. Jo Jo Diaz would probably give him a run for his money. You know, Jo Jo is strong, rough, rugged. [Nyambayar] more has a boxer’s style. So, it’s a different type of style. I think he’s more technical, you know, than just a brawler. We’ll have to have a much more subtle approach to him. I think it’s a gonna be a high-speed chess match.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.