By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – Brian Custer posed a more than reasonable question to Gary Russell Jr. during a press conference Thursday.
Showtime’s moderator wanted to know if this would be the calendar year within which Russell actually fights twice. The WBC featherweight champion smiled, as inactivity is one of the things he is most asked about.
Russell’s optional title defense against Spain’s Kiko Martinez on Saturday night will mark his first fight in almost exactly one year. The highly skilled southpaw hasn’t fought since he comfortably out-pointed previously unbeaten Joseph Diaz Jr. in their 12-rounder last May 19 at MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland.
The Martinez match will mark just the fourth fight for Russell (29-1, 17 KOs) since he knocked out Jhonny Gonzalez in the fourth round to win the WBC 126-pound championship in March 2015. The Capitol Heights, Maryland, native fought once a year in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
“It’s possible,” Russell said. “It’s very possible. Is this the year that any of the other world champions will be willing to step in the ring and compete against me? You know, everybody say I’m only competing once a year. To the fans that don’t know, I’m only competing once a year because none of these other guys are in a rush to get in the ring with me. You have to understand that we get paid based upon our ability to be able to produce. Those chances are very, very low [for potential opponents].
“They’re not willing to put their family and their livelihood on the line and step in the ring with a Mr. Gary Russell Jr. They know the hand speed. They know the punching ability. They know everything that comes with it. Like I say, [Martinez] prepared himself to be able to last or withstand the punishment that I’m gonna be giving him come Saturday. Point blank, period.”
Russell, 30, hopes to face WBA featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz (36-1-1, 19 KOs) in a title unification fight later this year.
The 2008 American Olympian is a 50-1 favorite over the 33-year-old Martinez (39-8-2, 28 KOs), who has been stopped by Carl Frampton, Scott Quigg and Santa Cruz. The Russell-Martinez match will be the second of three bouts broadcast by Showtime from Barclays Center in Brooklyn (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
In the main event, Deontay Wilder (40-0-1, 39 KOs) is set to make a mandatory defense of his WBC heavyweight title against Dominic Breazeale (20-1, 18 KOs). The telecast will begin with a 10-round bout between junior welterweight prospect Juan Heraldez (16-0, 10 KOs), of North Las Vegas, Nevada, and Argenis Mendez (25-5-2, 12 KOs, 1 NC), of Yonkers, New York.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.