Russell keeping focus on Escandon heading into hometown 126-pound title defense

When their 126-pound title bout concludes Saturday night, neither champion Gary Russell Jr. nor Oscar Escandon will offer any excuses for the outcome.

Gary Russell Jr. and Oscar Escandon

Gary Russell Jr. is looking to defend his 126-pound world title for the second time, but Oscar Escandon has visions of an upset Saturday on the champion's home turf in Oxon Hill, Maryland. (Ed Diller/Showtime)

After highly productive training camps, each man says he is “100 percent” physically, has complete confidence in his plan and is certain of leaving the ring victorious.

Obviously, something has to give here.

Gary Russell Jr. (27-1, 16 KOs) puts his 126-pound world title on the line Saturday against Colombian challenger Oscar Escandon (25-2, 17 KOs) at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland (Showtime, 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT).

Both men had no trouble making weight Friday, with Russell taking the scale at 125½ pounds and Escandon coming in at 125¾.

Russell is an overwhelming favorite to defend his championship for the second time, especially with the 28-year-old Washington, D.C., native performing at home in front of family and friends.

As if that wasn’t enough pressure on Russell to turn in a spectacular performance, the 2008 U.S. Olympian has two of his younger brothers, 2016 U.S. Olympian Gary Antuanne Russell and unbeaten prospect Gary Antonio Russell, competing in separate undercard bouts.

Thus far, the 5-foot-4½ Russell appears to be handling it all with ease. He's said all the right things heading into his first fight in his hometown.

“I never magnify an event, even though it’s at home. The end objective is still the same,” Russell said. “But I think it’s cool that everyone in our neighborhood has the opportunity to be in the arena and see what we do.

“I’m 100 percent physically and mentally ready for the challenge and I’m on top of everything I can be. When you get caught up in the hype, it’s a deficiency in yourself. You have to be able to focus on the objective over everything else.”

I never magnify an event, even though it’s at home. The end objective is still the same. But I think it’s cool that everyone in our neighborhood has the opportunity to be in the arena and see what we do. 126-pound world champion Gary Russell Jr., on fighting close to home for the first time

Escandon, 32, plans to spoil the Russell family party with nonstop pressure, just as he did when he claimed his interim title with a seventh-round KO of Robinson Castellanos in his last bout.

That win came at the DC Armory in Washington, D.C., so the 5-foot-1½ Escandon is no stranger to performing in the nation’s capital. But that fight also was 14 months ago, a long period of inactivity for a fighter expecting to beat the champ on his home turf.

Still, the native of Ibague, Colombia, remains steadfast in his ability to pull off the upset.

“In my last fight I was the underdog,” he said. “People counted me out—same thing applies here. I’ve done the work and I’m confident that I’m going to win. I didn’t have complete training camps with my past trainers, but now I’m with Ruben Guerrero. I’m learning so much. You can look at me in my previous fights and you’ll see a vast improvement now.

“I want that green (WBC) belt a lot. Green is my favorite color. I want to be the best and to me, winning that title signifies that I am the best. To do that I have to beat the best, and that is Gary Russell Jr.”

As for Russell, he is already looking toward the future, even with his focus squarely on the task immediately in front of him.

“I want a unification bout after this,” Russell said. "I’m ready for any of the other world champions. We can line them all up in the same night if you want. If I can’t get those fights, I’m going to move up in weight and bully around these bigger guys.

“I look at each fighter as their own individual. We don’t prepare the same way for every opponent. [Escandon is] a tough fighter who comes forward. He’s very physical and I expect him to be at his best on Saturday. It’s up to me to counteract what he does.”

For a complete look at Russell vs Escandon, visit our fight page.

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