By Keith Idec
Gary Russell Jr. was less dismissive of Joseph Diaz Jr. on Thursday than he was three weeks ago.
During their first press conference at MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, Russell made it seem as if Diaz doesn’t belong in the ring with him. Two days before they were set to fight, however, Russell respectfully discussed Diaz’s credibility.
“I take my hat off to him and to his team for having the guts to step into the ring,” Russell said during another press conference at MGM National Harbor. “There are only certain people who can be made for this sport and it speaks volumes about him as an individual. I don’t expect anything less than a worthy opponent.”
The undefeated Diaz is a former Olympian and the WBC’s mandatory challenger for Russell’s featherweight title. The 29-year-old Russell (28-1, 17 KOs) hasn’t fought in almost exactly one year, yet still is listed as more than a 3-1 favorite over Diaz (26-0, 14 KOs) in their 12-round, 126-pound championship bout.
“Diaz worked his way up the ranks to get this fight,” Russell said. “He did everything you have to do to get in position to fight for a world title. He’s already mentioned that I’m the best fighter in the division and he knows that all the other champions in the division are afraid to step up and compete against me.”
The odds aside, Russell has prepared for the 25-year-old Diaz as if the Downey, California, native is an elite-level featherweight fully capable of taking his title.
“Any fighter who has two months or more to prepare for one opponent is definitely dangerous,” Russell said. “We never overlook anyone. I believe in my hand speed, my punching power, my ring generalship and in my ability to make adjustments.”
Russell-Diaz will begin Showtime’s split-site doubleheader Saturday at 10:05 p.m. ET. It’ll continue from Toronto, where WBC light heavyweight champ Adonis Stevenson (29-1, 24 KOs) will defend his title against former two-division champion Badou Jack (22-1-2, 13 KOs) in the main event at Air Canada Centre.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.