At 29-years old, the feeling is that Gary Russell Jr’s career should have taken off by now. His big chance against Vasyl Lomachenko was a missed opportunity to start the ball rolling – but there was no shame in that loss. But since then, every victory has been greeted with a bout of inactivity, leaving us all to wonder if the supremely fast handed Maryland fighter will ever live up to his fullest potential.
Against the unbeaten Joseph Diaz, Russell Jr is once again presented with a chance to move to the upper echelons of the fight game, and press on with his career like fellow countrymen Errol Spence Jr and Terence Crawford have.
Russell Jr 28-1(17KO’s) is in a division full of well-known fighters who on the face of it would suit the WBC Featherweight champion down to the ground. But in order to meet the likes of Leo Santa Cruz, Russell Jr must come through a young and improving fighter.
In his home state, the electric southpaw meets an all-rounder in Diaz. A southpaw with power and solid boxing skills, honed in California.
Diaz 26-0(14KO’s) is fast himself, and will need that hand speed to keep on top of the champion, any lapse in action will allow for Russell Jr to pot-shot from the outside, where he will want to stay while keeping Diaz off balance.
On a weekend full of interesting clashes at world level – including another fascinating match-up at Featherweight – this may be the most subjective of them all. Diaz has the ability to become a world champion, but in Russell Jr he meets a man in his prime and with the potential to become more than just a regular titleholder.
A stoppage here seems a long-shot, both are more noted for frustrating their opponents, although Russell Jr has developed more of a mean streak since losing to Lomachenko in a bout that he feels he underperformed.
But despite not having the same experience, Diaz seems a tougher match-up for Russell Jr than any of Jhonny Gonzalez, Patrick Hyland and Oscar Escandon were.
Diaz will come out the blocks with the more ambitious start, opening Russell Jr’s eyes to exactly what sort of challenge is in front of him. Once settled, the champion will begin to time Diaz’s rushes inside, thus feeling in control of the fights tempo.
Diaz will be active enough to make many rounds tight, leaving the judges with the usual task of favouring the style that they see as more effective.
Russell Jr will look scintillating at times, while looking vulnerable at others, but by the conclusion of the 12-rounds he will retain his title by wide margins that don’t quite reflect such a well-fought contest.