By Cliff Rold
In front of a crowd grown feisty after earlier dramatics (more on that below), 28-year old WBC featherweight titlist Gary Russell Jr. (27-1, 16 KO), 125 ½, of Capitol Heights, Maryland, sent the local fans happy, scoring two knockdowns en route to a seventh round stoppage of 32-year old Oscar Escandon (25-3, 17 KO), 125 ¾, of Ibague, Colombia, in front of 2,345 fans at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland.
It was Escandon’s first stoppage defeat. Russell, a member of the 2008 US Olympic team, notches his second defense of the belt he won from Jhonny Gonzalez in March 2015. The night spotlighted himself as well as two younger brothers, all winning by knockout.
The referee was Harvey Dock.
Russell, who might have the fastest hands in boxing, got off to a commensurately fast start. Peppering Escandon from his southpaw stance, Russell hit Escandon at will through the first two rounds. In the third, a right hook sent Escandon to the floor. The brave Colombian rose and, to his credit, kept coming and was throwing as the round came down the stretch. He was still catching far more.
Escandon may have done enough in the fifth, concentrating to the body, to win a round. He attempted to find some momentum in an exciting sixth. Russell stayed in the pocket, exchanging and battering him, multiple receipts for every single body or head shot Escandon got home.
In the seventh, Escandon missed and Russell countered perfectly to send it to the showers. A left cross, followed by a harder right hook, sent Escandon reeling into the ropes. Russell pursued, missing with a left as Escandon went to the floor. Escandon rose, his legs still rubber, and Dock saved him from further punishment at :59 seconds of round seven.
Escandon suffers defeat in his third try at a title, twice previously falling short in attempts at interim 122 lb. belts.
Russell gave credit to Escandon. “I fought a tough competitor. I knew Escandon wanted to come and bring his best. I knew he was going to come forward. I was ready for him. We are warriors.” As to the future, Russell says he wants a chance to avenge his lone career defeat.
“(Vasyl) Lomachenko, that’s a no-brainer. I don’t want to do it for the fans or for the media. I want to do it for myself. And I want to do it twice. I’ll knock him out the first time and then, he’ll want me to fight him again.”
While Russell continues to call for a Lomachenko rematch, he has interesting options in the rankings of the WBC. Former 122 and 126 lb. titlist Carl Frampton is currently rated number one, followed by 2012 Olympian Joseph Diaz. Whether either wants to tempt the speed of Russell, not to mention whether Frampton will stay in the division, remains to be seen.
Russell also sounded off interest in the other champions of his class. “I’d love to unify against all the other guys in the featherweight division. I’d like Leo Santa Cruz, Lee Selby, Oscar Valdez."