This is the type of potentially career-changing chance Kent Cruz has sought for several years.

If the unbeaten St. Louis native upsets knockout artist Gary Antuanne Russell in the powerful southpaw’s proverbial backyard, it’ll legitimize Cruz as a contender in the 140-pound division. The undefeated Russell understandably is listed as a significant favorite, 14-1 according to Caesars Sportsbook, because he has knocked out each of his 16 professional opponents and Cruz settled for eight-round draws with Enriko Gogokhia in each of his last two fights.

The 30-year-old Cruz’s confidence is nevertheless high entering this dangerous assignment.

“This will be one of my best performances,” Cruz told “I feel like when the lights are bright, it’s my time to shine. I think he’s gonna bring out the best in me because of his style. My previous opponent was kind of trying to be a counterpuncher on the outside, you know, not really committed to shots, where Gary, he’s gonna bring it. He’s gonna be there, you know?”

Cruz caused concern Friday by stepping on the Maryland State Athletic Commission’s scale 2.6 pounds overweight for a 10-round, 140-pound bout Showtime will televise as the co-feature of a three-bout broadcast from MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland. Cruz could only get down to 142 pounds on his final attempt, but representatives for Cruz and Russell came to an agreement that allowed them to proceed with their fight.

The more disciplined Russell, of Capitol Heights, Maryland, came in at 138.4 pounds on his first attempt at making weight. Cruz (16-0-3, 10 KOs) is still convinced that he’ll alter their narrative by beating the 2016 U.S. Olympian.

“I feel like as the competition gets better, it’s gonna bring everything out of my toolbox,” Cruz said. “I’ve arrived. I’m gonna wake everyone up at 140 and they’re gonna know I’m here to take over the 140-pound division. And it starts with Gary Antuanne Russell. He’s a big name and he’s a real good fighter.”

Cruz believes both of Russell’s last two technical-knockout victories – wins against former champions Viktor Postol (31-5, 12 KOs) and Rances Barthelemy (30-2-1, 15 KOs, 1 NC) – were stopped prematurely. The undefeated underdog realizes, however, that he’ll need to be more wary of Russell’s power than when he faced The Republic of Georgia’s Gogokhia (13-1-2, 8 KOs).

“On paper, he can punch harder,” Cruz said. “He’s 16-0, with 16 knockouts, but we’re gonna be methodical in there, be real smart, take our time and be cautious of his power and his speed. So, we’ve just kinda got to stick to the game plan, take away some things that he do great and just execute our game plan. … A lotta things that he does wrong, we’re gonna exploit that.”

Puerto Rico’s Emmanuel Rodriguez (21-2, 13 KOs, 1 NC) and Nicaragua’s Melvin Lopez (29-1, 19 KOs) will fight for the unclaimed IBF bantamweight title in the 12-round main event. Rodriguez, who is ranked number two by the IBF, and the third-rated Lopez will fight for an IBF belt Naoya Inoue (25-0, 22 KOs) gave up to compete in the 122-round division for his recent eighth-round knockout of previously unbeaten WBC/WBO champ Stephen Fulton (21-1, 8 KOs).

Inoue knocked out Rodriguez in the second round of their May 2019 bout in Glasgow, Scotland to win the IBF bantamweight championship.

Showtime’s telecast is scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. EDT with a 10-round bout between welterweight prospect Travon Marshall (8-0, 7 KOs), of Capitol Heights, Maryland, and Venezuela’s Gabriel Maestre (5-0-1, 4 KOs).

Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.