Featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr. (31-1, 18 KO) turned away a dangerous challenger Saturday night. He put together a hefty lead and pranced across the finish line against Tugstsogt “King Tug” Nyambayar (11-1, 9 KO), earning a unanimous-decision victory at the PPL Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Russell, defending his WBC crown for the fifth time, was too fast for Nyambayar early on until things evened up in the championship rounds when Russell’s gas tank took a hit. Still, Russell, behind flaring jabs and zipping combinations, bested his opponent, winning 118-110, 116-112, and 117-111.
The oldest beltholder at 126 pounds, the points win may have been his featherweight envoi.
“We wanted Leo Santa Cruz… we wanted Gervonta Davis,” Russell told Jim Gray after the fight. “If we gotta move up in weight for these guys to feel as though they have some sort of advantage to take the fight, then we’ll do so.”
Holding onto the belt for five years, itching for a new division may give the impression that Russell has cleaned out the ranks at featherweight. But not so. Fighting once per annum, this was just his fifth defense. Anticipation was still high, despite the challenger’s light record on paper, given Nyambayar’s power and Olympic pedigree.
Through the first four rounds, at least, Russell had Nyambayar in check. Both men opened the fight from a crouched position before the challenger took initiative and the center of the ring. Feints and right crosses made up the Mongolian-born technician’s initial attack. Meanwhile flashing double and triple jabs from Russell secured an early lead.
Russell, 31, continued fighting in reverse while southpaw jabs kept flying. It was disciplined maneuvering and a technical jockeying for position in both directions.
Nyambayar, 27, attempted to parry and cut off the ring but was unable to solve the fluttering puzzle in front of him. Russell, occasionally found himself backed into a corner, yet subtly side-stepped out of danger and, at times, simultaneously skid a right hand across his opponent’s chin.
Nyambayar would eventually get a finger on the trigger in the fifth and sixth stanza. Hooking off his jab and upping the pressure, he touched Russell here and there. Soon enough he found especial success targeting the champion’s body with left hooks.
Quick exchanges opened the seventh session. It began a pattern of Russell’s, who would step into the trenches at the bell before resorting back to circling the outline of the ring. From a comfortable distance, Russell put together his hands upstairs. Through the next handful of rounds Nyambayar forgot about his left hook and instead gladly ate whimsical one-two combos for a chance at a big right hand.
In Round 10, Russell got off to another good start: his hands moving in short bursts but with little venom. It did not stop Nyambayar from getting off his best moment of the fight. Walking Russell into a corner, the American tried turning out of it to his left, but “King Tug” had a right hand waiting for him. The punch was clean. Russell’s eyes lit up and Nyambayar stung him with another two-handed volley.
Russell gathered himself but seemed sapped in the eleventh frame. Grappling became more prevalent and he was visibly less elusive. Up close, Russell still had an edge in hand speed: initiating phone booth combos with a throw-away punch to Nyambayar’s elbow before immediately following up tp his man’s head with a right-left salvo.
Naturally, there would be no floating like a butterfly in Round 12. Nyambayar assumed the center of the ring and punched through Russell’s guard. Now capable of parrying the champion’s feeble jabs, the Mongolian puncher swiped away incoming blows and stuck out a right hand to mask sweeping left hooks to the body: digging and digging some more. A light shiner emerged under the left eye of Russell. But no matter Nyambayar’s closing effort, the fight was still out of reach.
Running out the clock, a smile crossed Russell’s face.
“I’m a perfectionist,” said Russell, who extended his win streak to seven in a row. “We put the work in the gym. I’m one of the longest reigning champions for a reason.”
While the scorecards leaned significantly toward the defending champion, the punch states were nearly dead even. Russell landed 134 of 867 total punches (15 percent), including 104 of 399 power shots (26 percent). Nyambayar, to his credit, connected on 122 of 707 total punches (17 percent) and 101 of 482 power punches (21 percent).
Rigondeaux is champion again
Guillermo Rigondeaux (20-1, 13 KO) won a split decision over former champion Liborio Solis (30-6, 14 KO) to claim a vacant WBA bantamweight title, gaining the nod from the judges who had the bout 116-111 and 115-112 in Rigo’s favor and 115-112 for Solis.
In pursuit of a second divisional crown, Rigondeaux, 39, has been full surprises. First, opting to drop down to bantamweight—the opposite direction of most aging fighters. Then doling out fireworks in his eighth-round TKO over Julio Ceja last summer.
Rigondeaux continued his personal renewal in the opening round. Directly in the face of Solis, Rigo was unconcerned with the brawling attack from his opponent, who let loose left uppercuts and hooks. Most were blocked by the Cuban maestro, who would wait for Solis to open up and hurl, vicious straight left hands into the Venezuelan’s exposed chin.
The gameplan worked well enough at first. That is until a minute later one of those left hooks from Solis landed flush and left Rigo momentarily stunned. Rigondeaux collected himself but just before the bell, Solis caught him again, this time turning, cracking him with a winging right hand, visibly shaking his senses.
Rigondeaux would not take anymore chances. He entered the second round with a new philosophy—better known as his old, tried-and-true approach of technical proficiency. Called boring by most.
So now pawing from mid-range with a jab, the rounds piled up in his corner. Unsurprisingly, followed by audible booing from the audience.
In Round 7, Rigo did punch in a knockdown. His back against the ropes, he timed Solis perfectly with a long left uppercut. And combined with consecutive heavy left hands, Solis fell into the ropes, which he otherwise would’ve hit the deck. As much was clear to referee Benjy Esteves Jr. who initiated an eight-count.
Solis was also rattled in the tenth inning. But the only takeaway were the additional boos from the crowd when Rigondeaux ran out the clock six minutes later.
A storied amateur career long behind him, and a bewildering quit job to Vasyl Lomachenko still haunting his record, Rigondeaux lacks direction. Against Ceja, and the opening round here, he seemed eager to shake off his dull reputation with the one language every fan speaks: action. But all it took was one clean punch from Solis to convince him otherwise.