NEW YORK – The boxers who will be fighting Saturday, April 16 on a SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING® world title doubleheader are deep into their respective training camps as they continue preparation for their bouts at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, CT.
In the main event, live on SHOWTIME® (11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT), the talented and speedy southpaw Gary Russell Jr. (26-1, 15 KOs) makes the first defense of his WBC Featherweight World Title against Irish contender Patrick Hyland (31-1, 15 KOs). In the SHOWTIME co-feature, unbeaten sniper Jose Pedraza (21-0, 12 KOs) risks his IBF 130-pound world title as he defends his title for the second time against a mandatory challenger, Stephen Smith (23-1, 13 KOs).
Russell, who won the 126-pound title with a fourth-round knockout over defending champion Jhonny Gonzalez on March 28, 2015, trains in Washington, D.C.
Hyland, whose only loss suffered was to WBA Super Featherweight World Champion Javier Fortuna, has been training at a gym in Dublin, Ireland, owned and operated by his trainer, Paschal Collins, whose older brother Steve was a former two-time WBO world champion. Paschal Collins also boxed as a pro but is best known for being Irish heavyweight Kevin McBride’s head trainer during his shocking knockout of Mike Tyson.
The switch-hitting Pedraza, a 2012 Puerto Rican Olympian, has been working out in his native Puerto Rico. Smith, of Liverpool, England, has been training in the UK.
Below is what the confident boxers had to say with less than two weeks to go before their major fights:
GARY RUSSELL JR., WBC Featherweight World Champion
(On Training Camp)
“I’ve been in camp in Washington, D.C. for about eight weeks. I suffered the head butt before my November fight but I have been able to train this whole time and returned to sparring eight weeks ago. It’s been a really long training camp but I’m ready to go. This is the hardest part. Fighting is easy, but the preparation before the fight is where the hard work comes in. Being out of the ring so long is difficult, but it’s part of the business. Everything happens for a reason and I’m just really keyed in mentally.”
(On fighting Patrick Hyland)
“Hyland is going to come in there to win. You have to have that confidence to get in the ring. He’s preparing himself, but the question is, will it be good enough? I highly doubt it. We don’t take anyone lightly and we prepare to the best of our abilities. Everyone in the ring can pull off the upset. That’s why I have to be prepared to the fullest.”
“He’s not really a pressure fighter so I might have to take the fight to him. He’s long and rangy and he tries to keep his distance. He’s not a big puncher but he definitely has the ability to steal a fight.”
(On the fighting Russell family)
“My brother Antuanne made the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team in the 141-pound division and he has a chance soon to qualify for the games with a tournament in Azerbaijan. My other brother Antonio is going to be on my undercard as well. Within my family we’re actually the first set of four brothers to all win the National Golden Gloves. That just goes to show the level of coaching we get from our dad, to have a world champion, two Olympians and four National Golden Gloves winners. We’re trying to leave a legacy in this sport. We’re all very similar in temperament and attitude. We all want to be world champions.”
(On dealing with injuries)
“I’ve never had a fight where I was 100 percent. There’s always been something going on. I have had hand injuries since the beginning of my career but we have creative ways to handle that and preserve my hands. Right now, I feel great. I just have to pick my shots more, but that’s where the speed becomes a factor.”
(On possible future opponents)
“If I can get by Hyland, I want to fight the winner of the Lee Selby vs. Eric Hunter fight and unify titles. After that I’d like to see Leo Santa Cruz and take care of that. Then I want another crack at Vasyl Lomachenko. I don’t care what weight Lomachenko is at, I’ll follow him. He has to see me.”
PATRICK HYLAND, Featherweight Contender
(On Training Camp)
“I’ve been training at Celtic Warriors Gym in Dublin since before Christmas because I had a fight here (Ireland) on Feb. 6 but pulled out when I got word that I was fighting on March 12 (at Mohegan Sun). When that fight was postponed, I took it easy for two weeks until the April 16 show was announced. That’s when I started picking up training again. I’ve been training really hard and putting everything on the line to become WBC champ. We plan to arrive in the U.S. a week prior to the fight.”
(On fighting Gary Russell Jr.)
“To challenge a great champion, Gary Russell, Jr., is an honor for me. I think Gary is an awesome fighter with great hand speed and boxing ability. I’ve been working with Jono Carroll, an unbeaten Irish southpaw with good hand speed and good movement, who is ideal for what I have to work on to beat Russell.”
(On fighting again in the U.S.)
“I love fighting in the U.S. because there’s always a great atmosphere at the fights and it’s the real home of boxing. I’ve met friends for life who I consider family from the Marlboro area (Hyland lived in Marlboro, N.Y., for a couple of years). They’ll be at this fight, as always.”
(On the fighting Hyland brothers)
“My brothers are no longer fighting. Their last fights were on the same show, Jan. 28, 2012 in Atlantic City, which I headlined in (against Emmanuel Lucero). My older brother, Edward (“Pride of Tallaght”) fought at super featherweight. He runs his own Boxing Club in Dublin. My other brother, Paulie, was a former European and Irish super bantamweight champion. He is back doing a bit of training. No other members of our Hyland family were in professional boxing. I’m hoping we’re not the last, though, as I’ve got a few nephews and my own son now. One day they might lace up the gloves.”
JOSE PEDRAZA, IBF Super Featherweight World Champion
(On Training Camp)
“I am currently training in the Municipal gym in Cidra, P.R., where I took my first steps in boxing. I decided to train here because it feels like home and I can feel the warmth of my people and I am able to set an example for those who are starting out in boxing as well.”
“My training started in December and it is divided into two sections (morning and evening). During the morning portion we work on all of the specifics of boxing, including gloving up in addition to physical training lasting about three and a half hours. For the evening portion of the training I run. Two days a week it is track training and four days of the week it is distance running for about two hours in the evening, making it a total of about five and a half to six hours of work daily.’’
(On his diet)
“Actually, thank God, I do not have a strict diet and can eat all varieties of foods. I am doing really well with weight and I just reduce portions in the evenings during the final stages of the camp to meet the required 130 pounds. That’s why I do not miss any foods. My favorite foods are steak and other grilled foods. After the weigh-in I prefer the pastas my mom makes. She always prepares three different kinds for me.’’
(On his team)
“My team is composed of Mr. Luis Espada (trainer-manager), Francisco Flores (conditioning and track trainer), Andres Melendez (strength and conditioning) and Dr. Hector Santos (cutman and spiritual director). I’ve been with my trainer, who is my father, for 14 years ever since I threw my first punch. I haven’t made any major changes since I became champion. I’ve remained the same humble young man from a small town. I just push myself more to reach the bigger fights in the five categories from 130 to 154.”
(On his challenger Stephen Smith)
“I have seen some videos with my team of his fights and I can see that he is a boxer with a lot of resources who utilizes hooks to the body just as much as to the head. He is strong but something that works in my favor is that he is a come-forward fighter. He can handle 12 rounds comfortably. I hope on fight night I can neutralize all of his abilities and get the victory. I wouldn’t doubt if the win came by a KO anywhere from the sixth through the eighth round.’’
(Plans for his future in boxing)
“There are conversations about going up to 135. I’ve been at this weight since 2007; my body is demanding for me to go up to 135. Eventually my aspirations as a boxer are to be able to make boxing history not just in Puerto Rico but in the world. I want to go up and be the champion in five categories.
“First and foremost I would like to face Francisco Vargas; he’s a seasoned boxer and is strong with a lot of rage. He went to the Olympics like I did in 2008 and he became a champion in what could be considered the fight of the year for 2015, very dramatic. It would be the Mexico vs. Puerto Rico rivalry. Another fighter who I would like to face is the champion Javier Fortuna. He is simply just a loud mouth with a poor memory (or selective memory) but I’ll send him a note to look up what happened in boxing history during the Roman Cup 2006 in the Dominican Republic. I’ll leave it to him as an assignment.’’
(On his inspiration and role models)
“My biggest inspiration is my family. It is they who always, day after day, are there supporting me as my No. 1 fan. I am a pro-family man and my family is my engine with God as my strength. Together they inspire me to carry the responsibility on my shoulders of doing my best in and out of the ring.’’
“Floyd Mayweather. He is an intelligent boxer and his abilities distinguish himself. He also works and trains very hard and puts in the gym time. He’s a man of his word and he invests 100 percent to each in his training camps and knows how to manage his fans as well. So many fans would like to see him win and just as many like to see him lose, but people just want to see him.’’
STEPHEN SMITH, IBF No. 1 Super Featherweight Contender
(On the significance of this matchup)
“All fights are important but this one is especially very important for me to win so that I can get back to where I was in the division.’’
(On finally getting a crack at the world title)
“I've waited a long time for this opportunity, but the timing couldn't be better. I'm excited to get the opportunity to win the world title live on Sky Sports in the UK and on SHOWTIME in America.’’
(His views of the defending champion)
“Pedraza is a good fighter with a good amateur background and he's not a world champion for nothing. He can box from either stance but I am confident of winning. I wouldn't expect it to be an easy fight. It's a world title fight, it's meant to be tough. I'm preparing for the best of him; I don’t think he was at his best last time out against (Edner) Cherry.
“He could have lost that fight, but he got the win and he's going to look to show he's better than that. We've covered all bases as far as sparring for whatever way he comes out, and I think I have the game plan to beat him.
“It's not like he's looked at me and thought 'he's an easy fight' – he has no choice if he wants to keep his title. I think this fight has happened at the right time for me. It’s dragged out a bit but I've got a good head on my shoulders and I think that everything happens for a reason. My last outing was a career-best performance and I think that this has come at the right time.’’
(On his strategy)
“(Trainer) Joe Gallagher is as meticulous as anyone when it comes to preparing to face someone. Pedraza’s a lot more aggressive from the orthodox stance, but we've studied everything and we're really confident. The gym is still going strong; we were gutted for Scott Quigg as we know how much he gives in the gym for each fight. Spirits were down for a bit but big fights keep coming round, and now I have my fight.”
(On answering the critics who said he’d never fight for a title after his 2011 defeat to Selby)
“Because I had such a successful amateur career, I think that big things were expected of me. I had a bit of bad luck with injury, the loss to Selby set me back, but that was more from people writing me off. Lee is world champion now so there's no disgrace in that, but people were saying after that fight that I wouldn’t fight for a world title. It can be a fickle sport at times but I've come back stronger and I think I will prove a lot of people wrong in America.’’
(On his fighting brothers, Paul, Liam and Callum)
“The family is doing great things, but it's just something that we all set out to do when we started boxing so it's not really come as a surprise to us. We work hard every day and we've hit the goals we've set ourselves; Liam is world champion, Paul has boxed for the world title twice, Callum is on the verge and I box for a world title soon. Four brothers fighting for world titles is a massive achievement but for us, it's not enough -- we want to win them. I think it's very achievable for us, Paul is back tonight and he's looking for another shot, so it's realistic to say that three of us will box for world titles this year.’’
(On making his U.S. debut)
“The training is the same but there's more pressure and more media attention on this one as it's the big one. I've never boxed in the states myself but I've been over there with Paul and Callum, and anyone who has brothers that box will tell you it is worse when they are fighting than when it's your own fight. I know what to expect over there and I'm going to embrace it and soak it all up.”