Russell ready for 3rd, possibly last, featherweight defense
OXON HILL, Md. (AP) Gary Russell Jr. will make just the third defense of his WBC featherweight title in 25 months against unbeaten challenger Joseph Diaz on Saturday night.
Win or lose, it might also be Russell’s last.
Frustrated by a failure to make a unification bout at 126 pounds, Russell said Thursday he’ll consider moving up as high as 140 pounds if he beats Diaz.
Russell (28-1) would remain at featherweight, however, to face the winner of two other approaching title bouts. Lee Selby will defend his IBF strip against Josh Warrington earlier Saturday in England. Leo Santa Cruz will attempt to retain his WBA ”super champion” status in a rematch against Abner Mares on June 9.
”I don’t have a timeline in my mind of how long I want to wait,” said Russell, who has averaged less than a fight per year since his first title victory in March 2015. ”Politics is crazy. But I would love to make that fight relatively soon. I’ve been trying to make it happen for the last three years.”
He will first have to survive the mandatory challenger Diaz (26-0), who may be Russell’s toughest opponent since his only professional loss, a majority decision against Vasyl Lomachenko for the then-vacant WBO belt.
Russell wouldn’t give Diaz that credit yet, however.
”It’s very, very difficult for me to answer that question, and the reason why is I never really worry about my opponent that much,” Russell said. ”I think the biggest thing is preparing myself to the best of my ability. … I believe in my ability to make the necessary adjustments, no matter what my opponent brings across the ring.”
Like Russell, Diaz is also a United States Olympic team alum, a left-hander and a boxer trained by a father of the same first name.
As Russell will do in a second consecutive title defense at the MGM National Harbor, miles from his hometown in Washington’s Maryland suburbs, Diaz aspires to host title defenses in his native Los Angeles area.
”I know what Gary Russell brings to the table. I know he’s the toughest in the division,” Diaz said. ”But I’m willing to go out there and defeat him and bring back the WBC title not only for myself but for the sport of boxing as well. I want to make sure I’m an active 126-pound fighter.”