Gary Russell Jr. is set for his annual title defense.
The longest active-reigning male titlist in the sport today is set to next face Rey Vargas (34-0, 22KOs), with the two sides avoiding a purse bid hearing for their ordered WBC featherweight title fight. News of the matchup being finalized was revealed by the WBC, though the fight currently remains without a date or location.
The bout was first ordered on Jan. 15th, shortly after Vargas (34-0, 22KOs) officially moved up in weight after having reigned as the WBC junior featherweight champion since 2017. Vargas was previously named “Champion in Recess” at his old weight after having sat out for all of 2020, in part due to the pandemic but also after suffering a broken leg towards mid-year.
Vargas was granted an opportunity to compete for his old title upon his return. The 30-year-old from Otumba, Mexico instead opted to move up in weight, with the agreement of being inserted as the sanctioning body’s mandatory challenger at featherweight. With that came an official close to his 122-pound reign which included five successful defenses, the last of which was a 12-round decision over former bantamweight tiltlist Tomoki Kameda in July 2019.
Russell (31-1, 18KOs) is coming up on his 6th anniversary as WBC featherweight champion, his reign outlasting every male boxer in the sport today. Of course, he has been able to preserve himself by merely fighting once per year.
The 32-year-old from the greater D.C. area has not fought since a 12-round unanimous decision win over Mongolia’s Tugstsogt Nyambayar last February in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The bout came nine months after his previous defense, a 5th round knockout of former 122-pound titlist Kiko Martinez in May 2019. After the win over Martinez, Russell called for a WBC/WBA title unification bout with Leo Santa Cruz, only for the demand to fall on deaf ears.
Russell has also sought high-profile showdowns with reigning 130- and 135-pound titlist Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis (24-0, 23KOs—an attractive option playing to the Baltimore-D.C. rivalry—and even unbeaten welterweight titlist Terence ‘Bud’ Crawford (37-0, 28KOs). A fight with Davis would likely do big business in Baltimore or the D.C. region, though a fight which makes more sense once crowds are permitted back in attendance in the region.
A fight with Crawford never evolved beyond calling out the pound-for-pound entrant through various social media platforms.
Instead, it will be another mandatory title defense in hopes of extending a lengthy reign dating back to a 4th round knockout of Jhonny Gonzalez in March 2015. Russell—a 2008 U.S. Olympian—has won seven straight since a 12-round loss to Vasiliy Lomachenko in their June 2014 WBO featherweight title fight.
Per the WBC, an announcement from TGB Promotions is expected in the coming days. Representatives from Premier Boxing Champions (PBC)—which represents both boxers—did to reply to an inquiry seeking comment or confirmation as this goes to publish.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox