Gary Russell Jr. has talked a lot recently about his plans for the future, both in and out of the ring: He wants to take on the cream of the 126-pound crop, unify the division’s titles and hang up his gloves for good, all in relatively short order.
Given his forward-looking attitude, it’s tempting to surmise that Russell isn’t taking seriously the present challenge before him: Saturday’s 126-pound title defense against Patrick Hyland (31-1, 15 KOs) at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut (Showtime, 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT).
Such an assumption, the 27-year-old southpaw asserts, would be dead wrong.
“We don’t take anyone lightly, and we prepare to the best of our abilities,” said Gary Russell Jr. (26-1, 15 KOs), who come Saturday night will end a hiatus of more than a year. “Hyland is going to come in there to win—you have to have that confidence to get in the ring. He’s preparing himself, but the question is, will it be good enough? I highly doubt it.”
Russell, who weighed in Friday at 126 pounds even, will be making the first defense of the title he won in March 2015, when he destroyed champion Jhonny Gonzalez, recording three knockdowns en route to a fourth-round TKO. He’s been idle since then, and has fought just three times since February 2014.
In those other two bouts, Russell suffered his only defeat, dropping a unanimous decision to Ukranian star Vasyl Lomachenko in June 2014 in a fight for a vacant world title, followed by a 10-round unanimous decision over veteran Christopher Martin in December 2014.
Hyland, who also weighed in at 126 Friday, will present a challenge for Russell in that he’s a tall, rangy boxer-puncher from Dublin who has been fighting professionally for nearly 12 years. However, the only other time Hyland took a big step up in competition and fought for a world title, he came up short, losing a unanimous decision to Javier Fortuna in December 2012. Fortuna, who was 20-0 when he faced Hyland for an interim 126-pound crown in Las Vegas, is a current 130-pound titleholder.
Since getting tagged with his only pro defeat, though, Hyland has rebounded with four straight victories, including three stoppages. Again, though, none of those fighters were on the level of Russell or Fortuna, both of whom are southpaws.
“To challenge a great champion [like] Gary Russell, Jr. is an honor for me,” the 32-year-old Hyland says. “I think Gary is an awesome fighter with great hand speed and boxing ability.
“I’ve been working with Jono Carroll, an unbeaten Irish southpaw with good hand speed and good movement, who is ideal for what I have to work on to beat Russell.”
Those fast hands are definitely Russell’s calling card and figure to be the biggest X factor in this bout. If he can find a way to deal with Russell’s quickness and beat his opponent to the punch, Hyland will have a shot to score the biggest win of his career.
However, if Hyland—who at 5-foot-8 is 3½ inches taller than Russell with a longer reach—sits back and tries to counterpunch, he’ll likely become the first piece of Russell’s career-ending puzzle to fall into place.
“If I can get by Hyland, I want to fight [fellow 126-pound champ] Lee Selby and unify the titles,” says Russell, who has insisted he plans to retire after about six more fights. “After that, I’d like to see Leo Santa Cruz and take care of that.
“Then I want another crack at Vasyl Lomachenko. I don't care what weight Lomachenko is at, I’ll follow him. He has to see me.”
For full coverage of Russell vs Hyland, head over to our fight page.