Not even landing on the wrong end of a disputed decision could deter Juan Carlos Payano from returning to the scene of the crime just three months later.

So goes the life of the former bantamweight titlist, who is no longer in a position to pick and choose his ring assignments yet remains all the more willing to accept whatever is offered. With that comes his next adventure, a crossroads showdown versus unbeaten 118-pound prospect Gary Antonio Russell which opens a Showtime-televised tripleheader Saturday evening live from Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.

The very same venue saw Payano denied what he felt was a career-restoring win as former 122-pound titlist Daniel Roman was awarded a 12-round unanimous decision this past September.

“There was no hesitation about coming back here,” Payano (21-4, 9KOs) admitted to “I obviously didn’t agree with how the last fight turned out, but appreciated all of the support I received from everyone who watched and felt that I deserved to win.

“I can’t let nights like that slow me down and hold me back. This is a good opportunity for me, facing a younger, undefeated opponent who really needs to prove himself against me.”

Judges Kevin Morgan, David Sutherland and Don Trella all scored the contest 116-112, with many observers believing the fight was much closer if not an outright win for Payano.

Rather than earning an upset win over the former unified titlist, Payano now enters this weekend having officially lost three of his last four starts. The 36-year old southpaw from Miami by way of La Vega, Dominican Republic suffered knockout losses to arguably the two best bantamweights in the world at the time he faced Naoya Inoue and Luis Nery.

Payano was shockingly dropped and stopped in 70 seconds by Inoue in the quarterfinal round of the World Boxing Super Series in October 2018, before bouncing back with a lopsided eight-round win over Damien Vasquez last March. Four months later came a hard-fought 9th round knockout versus Nery last July, having since seen at least two fights fall through due to COVID-related reasons before landing the fight with Roman.  

With that comes a head-held-high mentality as Payano faces Russell (17-0, 12KOs), the younger brother of current featherweight titlist Gary Russell Jr. and whose fighting family hails from Capitol Heights, Maryland. The 27-year old Russell is the perceived favorite, though Payano enters the fight brimming with confidence—even over the thought of having to sweat out another decision.

“Obviously, I have to do a much better job of convincing the judges this time around,” admits Payano, who enjoyed a 21-month stay as a bantamweight titlist beginning with a technical decision win over long-reigning champion Anselmo Moreno in September 2014. “But I can’t dwell on that, I just have to focus on this fight in front of me.

“I worked on everything with my trainer, German Caicedo to make sure we don’t leave any doubt this time around.

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox