Showtime Championship Boxing will come to us from the The Pearl at Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada on Saturday as Jhonny Gonzalez (57- 8, 48 KOs) attempts to make the third title defense of his WBC World featherweight title against once beaten Gary Russell Jr. (25-1, 14 KOs).
Russell Jr. of Capital Heights, Maryland is on a quest to prove that he still is who we thought he was prior to the Vasyl Lomachenko loss, one of the best up and coming fighters in the game. An undefeated fighter prior to June of 2014 when he faced Lomachenko, Russell was the guy who exhibited all the skills but did not yet have a career defining win or one over a top flight opponent.
Lomachenko’s majority decision could and probably should have been scored a unanimous decision. It’s not like Russell fought badly, he has some of the fastest hands in the business and his power shots were coming at Lomachenko with blistering speed but the Ukrainian was always a step faster causing Russell to land very few clean shots.
Russell was attacked to the body early with damaging blows, the effects of which were evident in the championship rounds. Russell was never able to cut the ring off and force Lomachenko into a slugfest and lost out on a chance to capture the vacant WBO World featherweight title.
In an interview with Behind The Gloves, Gary Russell Sr. spoke about his son’s loss,
“Like they say, you’re only as good as your last fight. No one wants to talk about the 24 wins my son had. Media just wants to talk about the loss. I understand, it hypes the story, it sells. Hey, look, Lomachenko was a real tough fight but what people don’t know is my son was in a sauna three days in a row before the fight, each after a long training session.”
“He had a strength and conditioning coach for the first time in his career. And without my knowledge, he was taking my son to the sauna for hours after training. You could tell by the first round with Lomachenko, something was off. Gary wasn’t himself. He was dehydrated. The sauna is a vampire. Sucks the life out of you.”
Russell followed the Lomachenko loss with a unanimous decision victory in his last fight against Christopher Martin in December.
Mexico’s Gonzalez has been riding high since he stopped then undefeated WBC World featherweight champion Abner Mares in one round back in 2013. Since then he has made two title defenses, both in 2014, a technical decision win over Clive Atwell and in his last fight in October, an 11th round stoppage win over tough as nails Jorge Arce.
“I’m very excited to be coming back to the United States. Every time I have fought on American soil, it has been career changing for me,” said Gonzalez. “In 2012, [Daniel] Ponce De Leon stopped me in Las Vegas and made me reconsider my whole strategy. I came back to the U.S. in 2013 and I stopped an undefeated champion, Abner Mares. Now I’m back and once again I’m facing a tough opponent. Russell is not an easy test, but I’m confident I’m going to surprise everybody once more. Nobody thought I had a chance in 2013 and I stripped Mares of his title, food for thought.”
“Ever since beating Mares, I feel like I am finally getting the respect and support from the fans and media that I deserve. I get recognized all of the time now. The recognition motivates me to work harder than ever before and not let my fans down”
“I feel like I am in my boxing prime. There is still so much to prove and show to the world that I am still at the top of my game and capable of fighting with the best, in my fight on Saturday I am going to bring the same energy and intensity that I brought in my fight against Mares.”
As the adage goes, styles make fights and the contrast here is a recipe for an explosive fight. Gonzalez is a heavy handed brawler who comes forward with a seek and destroy mentality while the southpaw Russell’s speed is the great equalizer. Gonzalez will have a reach advantage but Russell is the best opponent that Gonzalez has fought in some time, something that is not lost on Gonzalez.
“I know that Gary Russell Jr. has fast and powerful hands. He is a quick and strong southpaw. I know he’s an excellent boxer, I am going to attack him with my power and speed. Once he feels my power in the ring, he’s not going to be able to think in there. He’s going to run, but if he decides to brawl with us, then we will have something for him.”
“At this point in my career, he [Russell] is the fastest opponent I have ever faced. He has very fast hands and puts together good combinations, to prepare for Russell, I am constantly keeping my hands up at all times during my training. I am training that if he throws punches at me, I know how to immediately react and throw shots back at him.”
“A lot of people are doubting me going into this fight because of the speed of Russell. It’s a great challenge for me and I can’t wait to get in the ring. “I am absolutely looking for the knockout and I believe I will get it. I don’t expect this fight to go the distance. I am going to pressure him from the opening bell, my conditioning and confidence is at an all-time high. I am very anxious for this title fight”
“Loma (Lomachenko) is fast while Gonzalez is a puncher. Gonzalez is more dangerous, more seasoned. We take every fight seriously, it’s a dangerous fight but we fill we’ll be successful.”
“He won’t be able to handle my speed. He has to set his feet and he lacks ring generalship. His punches are wide and I’ll be able to catch him between shots.”
Russell Jr. again has a shot at a world title and has vowed that the outcome will be different this time. He can quiet his critics with a convincing performance, a loss and the doubts and criticisms increase to a deafening tone.
Portions of this article contributed to BTG.