Photo edit: Keystone Boxing
After a routine confidence builder just three months ago, Featherweight contender Gary Russell Jr. (25-1, 14 KOs) takes a massive jump up in class for the second time in his career to face hard hitting WBC king, Jhonny Gonzalez (57-8, 48 KOs) in Las Vegas this Saturday night.
The 26-year-old Russell Jr. was broken and outpointed by the undeterred amateur legend, Vasyl Lomachenko in his only world title tilt, handing the Capital Heights, MD fighter his first career loss, a dose of cold reality and a one-way ticket back to the drawing board.
Luckily for Russell Jr., he has somehow attained another shot at supremacy this weekend after only a single bout. But is the American mentally prepared for the acid test Gonzalez brings, with the demons of the Lomachenko loss still looming large in his psyche?
The 33-year-old Gonzalez has been hailed as a recognized champion at 126 pounds since his unforeseen first-round blitz of previously undefeated star Abner Mares in 2013, which has propelled him to new-found heights. Gonzalez, who spoke out at this weeks media workout for his upcoming title defense, alluded to how much his career has positively changed since that breakout win against Mares.
“Ever since beating Mares, I feel like I am finally getting the respect and support from the fans and media that I deserve,” said the reigning champion. “I get recognized all of the time now. The recognition motivates me to work harder than ever before and not let my fans down.”
The battled hardened Mexican is also expected to adopt the same type of tactics used in his win against Mares in an attempt to unsettle the classy work of Russell Jr., who can fight in attractive bursts. Whether his counterpart chooses to fight or box though, Gonzalez believes he has the antidote for his rival’s talents.
“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,” stated the confident Gonzalez.
Despite the fact that the self-belief is utterly oozing out of the seasoned champion, he is under no illusions that Saturday night’s showdown is against one of the best Featherweights in the world. Nevertheless, Gonzalez cannot wait to face the challenge that awaits him on Saturday.
“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,” said Gonzalez.
“A lot of people are doubting me going into this fight because of the speed of Russell Jr. It’s a great challenge for me and I can’t wait to get in the ring.”
Convincing words from the hard-hitting Gonzalez, however is he underestimating the pure boxing ability of his stylish southpaw opponent?
Prior to the Lomachenko defeat, the highly touted Gary Russell Jr. was a promising undefeated prospect who was hotly tipped for future world honors.
Russell Jr.’s resume has always been a subject of controversy due to his lack of genuine challengers, but his talent is undeniable, perhaps making the junior Olympic champion a slight favorite going into this weekend’s crucial matchup.
Certainly Gonzalez provides Russell Jr. with a completely different conundrum to that of Lomachenko, yet with only a solitary win against a limited challenger since the Ukrainian snatched his undefeated record, the jury is still understandably out as to whether Russell Jr. has exorcised all the demons following the demoralizing Lomachenko loss.
This bout is a perfect example of brawler versus boxer, with Gonzalez’s nonstop aggression fitting the former and Russell Jr.’s fleet footedness fitting the latter. The champion spoke about having the answer to whatever his opponent chooses to do on the night, however the ball is very much in Russell Jr.’s court. The challenger’s superior boxing ability as well as his exceedingly fast hands could frustrate the hell out of the eager Gonzalez if the Maryland native is on his game.
Without a doubt, there is a substantial risk associated with facing Jhonny Gonzalez for Gary Russell Jr., because to take this fight so soon after such a high profile setback could ultimately be a damming decision.
In saying that, if it works, then kudos to team Russell Jr. for making such a bold judgment call, but if it turns out to be a failure, then that lucrative Featherweight train will be departing with Russell Jr. sadly watching it disappear in the distance, while he has no option but to wait on the mediocre bus to approach.