When southpaw Gary Russell Jr. fought Jhonny Gonzalez in March 2015 in Las Vegas, he was challenging a 126-pound world champion with a history of trouble against left-handers. Of Gonzalez’s eight losses entering the fight, six had been against southpaws, and two came by knockout.
Russell won easily to earn the world title, scoring one knockdown in the third round and two in the following frame to gain a fourth-round stoppage of Gonzalez.
Gary Russell Jr. now defends his title for the first time Saturday (Showtime, 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT) at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut, against Irishman Patrick Hyland, whose lone loss came against a southpaw.
Although Russell (26-1, 15 KOs) has been out of the ring for 13 months, he doesn’t expect the layoff to factor into the outcome against Hyland (31-1, 15 KOs), who at 5-foot-8 has a 3½-inch height advantage over the champion.
“Being out of the ring so long is difficult, but it’s part of the business,” Russell said. "Everything happens for a reason, and I’m just keyed in mentally.
“He’s long and rangy and he tries to keep his distance. He’s not a big puncher, but he definitely has the ability to steal a fight. Everyone in the ring can pull an upset. He’s not really a pressure fighter, so I might have to take the fight to him.”
Hyland has won his last four fights, three by knockout, since losing a unanimous decision in December 2012 to unbeaten southpaw Javier Fortuna, who is currently a 130-pound titleholder.
Russell and his father and trainer, Gary Sr., have watched the Fortuna-Hyland fight, but they’re not giving away any weaknesses or tendencies they might have spotted.
“We've seen the footage and felt Hyland fought gamely,” Russell Sr. said. “We’re not sure how many southpaws he has fought, but [Fortuna] had the look of a conventional southpaw fighter.”
Hyland’s résumé does include recent fourth-round stoppages of a pair of left-handers: Noel Echevarria in July 2014 and Manuel de los Reyes Herrera last March. The Irishman also stopped right-hander David Martinez in eight rounds in his last fight in October.
“We got a glimpse of Hyland's style,” Russell Sr. said. “We'll find out on [Saturday] if he's able to make changes and adjustments.”
Russell has knocked out just two of his last six opponents, which includes his lone loss to fellow southpaw Vasyl Lomachenko by majority decision in a 126-pound title fight in June 2014.
“We say this over and over, that this is what we train to do. We put the work in at the gym with an expectation of not losing,” Russell said. “We plan on capitalizing on mistakes that Hyland will make, but we don't go in looking for a KO. If it comes it comes.”
For complete coverage of Russell vs Hyland, visit our fight page.