By Lem Satterfield

Tugstsogt Nyambayar represents Mongolia’s best hope for a world champion since Lakva Sim’s fifth-round TKO earned the WBA’s vacant 135-pound title over Miguel Calist in April 2004 before losing it via unanimous decision to then-unbeaten Juan Diaz that July.

“Personally, I’ve never met him, but I’ve watched Lakva Sim’s fights several times, and a lot of people want to be like him,” said Nayambayar, 26.

“I think he’s a hero, and not just famous as a professional boxer. I’m a big hope for a title fight for Mongolia, so I would like to become a world champion and bring a title back to Mongolia.”

But Nayambayar (10-0, 9 KOs) must first get beyond 29-year-old left-handed former champion Claudio “The Matrix” Marrero (23-2, 17 KOs) in a 126-pound eliminator for the right to face southpaw WBC champion Gary Russell (29-1, 17 KOs), doing so on January 26  at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, as Premiere Boxing Champions returns to FOX  (8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT.).

The main event features WBA “super” welterweight champion Keith Thurman (28-0, 22 KOs) ending a 22-month, injury-caused ring absence in pursuit of his eighth defense against third-time title challenger Josesito Lopez  (36-7, 19 KOs).

Nayambayar’s amateur career blossomed in 2009, when he earned a silver medal in the world amateur championships as well as a bronze in the Asian championships. “King Tug” also earned a gold medal in the 2010 World University Games, and another silver in 2012 London Olympics.

But if Nyambayar can become a professional world champion, that, in his mind, would surpass even his countryman and predecessor, Sim.

“I won a world amateur silver medal at the age of 17, and then, I won an Olympic silver medal when I was 20. No one else [from Mongolia] has done that,” said Nayambayar.

“But if I am able to bring a title back to Mongolia, that would be huge. That would be bigger than the [medals] I have won. So I think the Mongolian people will be happy, and there would be a major celebration – one of the biggest celebrations you could ever think of.”

But Nayambayar must first get beyond Marrero, a Dominican Republican fighter who won a clash of southpaws in April by 33-second stoppage over previously unbeaten Jorge Lara (29-0-2, 21 KOs) at the Don Haskins Center in El Paso, Texas.

In a Knockout Of The Year candidate, Marrero finished Lara with a hybrid left cross-uppercut that crashed “Pilon” to the canvas and onto his left side in fetal position. In victory, “The Matrix” ended the 27-year-old Lara’s run of nine KOs in his previous 11 fights.

In his last bout in May, Nayambayar rose from the canvas in the first-round to secure his five-knockdown, third-round knockout of ex title-holder Oscar Escandon at Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi.

“I’ve watched the fight a number of times, and the first-round knockdown was more of a slip,” said Nayambayar, whose win over Escandon came against a fighter who was floored once by Russell in his previous fight in May 2017, a seventh-round knockout loss.

“Still, there was pressure to overcome the knockdown, and I made the proper adjustments and was able to do that. Escandon was a good, tough fighter, but, now, I’m focused on Claudio Marrero. I’m very excited for this next fight. I’ll give an even better performance in this fight.”