By Paul “Paparazzi” Jones and Justin Jones |Photos © Paul “Paparazzi” Jones
OXON HILL, MARYLAND –After two failed attempts, WBC Featherweight Champion Gary Russell Jr.(28-1, 17KOs) finally got his chance to take on former Interim WBC titlist Óscar Escandón (25-3, 17 KO)on Saturday night at The Theater at MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland.
And Russell Jr. didn’t disappoint.
After fighting just 6 rounds since 2014, the reigning and defending WBC champ showed no ill effects from his inactivity. In fact, Russell put on a boxing clinic against Escandón, stopping the Colombian brawler in the seventh round of their boutin front of 2,345 boisterous fans.
Russell set the tone in the opening stanza by coming out aggressive and using a heavy work rate to disrupt Escandón’s timing and keep his foe at bay. Russell’s hand speed and accuracy were the keys to victory, however, with the DC native landing nearly 40% of his punches in the round according to Punch Stats.
From that point forward, Russellused a steady diet of fast combinations andcat-quick reflexes to befuddle, counter, and rip meaningful blows to the body and head of Escandón.
And as Russell’s lead on the scorecards continued to mount, it was clear that he read the scouting report on Escandón going into this fight.
“I fought a tough competitor,” said Russell.“I knew Escandon wanted to come and bring his best [and] I knew he was going to come forward. I was ready for him.”
But, despite being dropped in the third round and eventually stopped in the seventh, Escandóndeserves a tip of the hat for managing to make thisfight semi-competitive and entertaining throughout. The former Colombian Olympiansincerely came to win; and for that,Escandón should be commended.
However, with Escandón now behind him, the big question for Russellis:Who’s next?
Fortunately, Russell has plenty of options including unification bouts at 126 lbs.or move up to130 lbs. if he’s unable to get a meaningful fight at featherweight. Russell’s also indicated that he’d like to fight multiple times in 2017, which is good for Team Russell and boxing.
Fights against reigning and former WBA (Super) World Featherweight Champions Leo Santa Cruz (33-1-1, 18 KOs) and Carl “The Jackal” Frampton (23-1, 14 KOs) are can’t miss fights. A bout against hard-nosed IBF World Featherweight Champ, Lee Selby (24-1, 9 KOs) would also be a buzzworthy scrap.
Match-ups against other featherweight titlists, including 26-year-old WBO Champ Oscar Valdez (22-0, 19 KOs) or WBA (Regular) champ Abner Mares (30-2-1, 15 KOs) would also be solid fights.
The good news is that Russell seems open to such fights. “I’d love to unify against all the other guys in the featherweight division,” said Russell.“I’d like Leo Santa Cruz, Lee Selby, [or] Oscar Valdez.”
Santa Cruz is arguably the most intriguing opponent for Russell on paper. And, Russell has already waged a war of words with the 28-year-old Mexican buzzsaw, proclaiming that Santa Cruz “don’t want no smoke for real” with the DC native in a recent Fight Hype Interview.
Translation: Russell believes that Santa Cruz isn’t in a hurry to fight him.
Unfortunately, this compelling match-up would likely have to wait given that Santa Cruz already appears to have an impending dance partner. In fact, a report indicates that the WBA ordered Santa Cruz and Mares to begin negotiations for a potential rematch. Therefore, Santa Cruz and Mares may not be available until later in the year.
Frampton, The Ring magazine’s 2016 Fighter of the Year, is another possibility and an intriguingchallenger, especially given the motivation that the Northern Ireland native is likely to have after losing his WBA strap to Santa Cruz earlier this year.
Nevertheless, it’s no secret that Russell covets a rematch against reigning WBO jr. lightweight champ, Vasyl “Hi-Tech” Lomachenko (8-1, 6 KOs).
“Lomachenko, that’s a no-brainer,” Russell said in his post-fight interview after his bout with Escandón. “I don’t want to do it for the fans or for the media; I want to do it for myself. And I want to do it twice. I’ll knock him out the first time and then, he’ll want me to fight him again.”
As fans of the sweet science,let’s hope that Russell wish comes true.
In other action, Andre Dirrell (26-2, 16 KOs) was awarded a victory over Jose Uzcategui(26-2, 22 KOs)after Uzcategui was disqualified for hitting Dirrell after the bell in the eighth round. These egregious punches – and one in particular – badly hurt Dirrell, causing him to fall onto the canvas face-first. Referee Bill Clancy and the ringside doctor determined that Dirrell could not continue due to the foul, and disqualified Uzcategui who was up on all three of the judges’ scorecards at the time.
With the win, Dirrell in now in pole position for a shot at the interim IBF super middleweight title and a mandatory fight against reigning IBF Champ, James DeGale (23-1-1, 14 KOs). Dirrell dropped a unanimous decision to DeGale for the IBF crown in 2015.
Two-division champ Rances Barthelemy (26-0, 13 KOs)won a controversial unanimous decision against Kiryl Relikh (21-2, 19 KOs), which had the crowd booing and many media members scratching their heads about the scoring. All three judges were in favor of Barthelemy with the scores being as wide as 117-109, 116-110, and 115-111. PunchStat painted a different picture, with Relikh landing nearly double the amount punches and beating Barthelemy in every statistical category (248-137 overall punches, 58-46 in jabs, and 190-91 power punches). We scored the bout 114-112 in favor of Relikh.
The win sets up Barthelemy for a mandatory title shot against WBA Junior Welterweight Champion Julius Indongo (22-0, 11 KOs).
In the SHOWTIME® telecast opener, IBF Junior Lightweight Champ Gervonta Davis (18-0, 17 KOs) easily dispatched of Liam Walsh (21-1, 14 KOs) via third-round stoppage. ■
Contact “Paparazzi” Jones:
More from “Paparazzi”and Justin Jones: