By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – Gary Russell Jr. will remain at featherweight for one reason and one reason only.
But if the WBC 126-pound champion cannot secure the title unification fight he wants with Leo Santa Cruz, he plans to move up to 130 pounds for his next fight. Russell out-classed Spain’s Kiko Martinez on Saturday before their fight was stopped in the fifth round due to a nasty cut over Martinez’s left eye.
After dismantling Martinez (39-9-2, 28 KOs), Russell urged Premier Boxing Champions’ Al Haymon to put Santa Cruz in the ring with him next. Russell (30-1, 18 KOs), a 2008 U.S. Olympian, went as far as to wear a tee shirt with that exact message on its back while he was interviewed by Showtime’s Jim Gray.
While Santa Cruz (36-1-1, 19 KOs) obviously is Russell’s preferred opponent for later this year, he has his eye on another champion if Santa Cruz doesn’t want to fight him. Russell would like for his first fight at the 130-pound limit to come against WBC super featherweight champion Miguel Berchelt (36-1, 32 KOs).
Mexico’s Berchelt battered Francisco Vargas (25-2-2, 18 KOs) for much of their rematch May 11 in Tucson, Arizona. He won that bout by technical knockout following the fifth round, but Berchelt doesn’t have an opponent for his next fight.
Russell is confident that if Berchelt boxed him, he would become a two-division champion pretty easily.
“That’s the only reason I’m at 126 now, is to compete against Leo Santa Cruz,” Russell told BoxingScene.com. “If it was up to me, I would’ve automatically moved up to 130 and challenged Berchelt. I think Berchelt has the WBC at 130. I have the belt at 126, so I could immediately challenge the champion above me. That would be easy work. He’s too slow, too flat-footed, just easy work. I’d do whatever I want to him, take his title from him, and we’ll move forward from there.”
Russell also told BoxingScene.com that he would welcome a fight against Gervonta Davis if Russell moves up to 130 pounds. Davis (21-0, 20 KOs) is from Baltimore, near Russell’s hometown of Capitol Heights, Maryland, which would make theirs a big fight in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area.
Davis’ next bout, a mandatory WBA super featherweight title defense against Panama’s Ricardo Nunez (21-2, 19 KOs), was announced Saturday night. Showtime will televise that fight as the main event of a July 27 telecast from Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.