Gary Russell Jr. retains WBC featherweight title with UD win over rugged Joseph Diaz Jr.

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Maryland native puts on a show for his hometown fans as he dominates previously unbeaten challenger at MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland.

OXON HILL, MARYLAND — This was a little scary. Gary Russell Jr. would throw his metronome jab—and Joseph Diaz Jr. kept coming. Russell would counter with lightning-fast combinations, working up and down to the body and head—and Diaz kept coming. Russell would peck at the midsection with two, three, four blinding shots—and Diaz kept coming.

It was this accumulation of jabs, and body shots, and occasional right hooks that eventually spelled victory for Russell, who successfully retained the WBC featherweight title for the third time with a unanimous decision win over 25-year-old Joseph Diaz Jr., on a Showtime-televised card at his home away from home Saturday night, the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland.

“I hurt my right hand in the second or third round, so we had to make the adjustments,” said Russell, who improved to 29-1, with 17 KOs. “[Diaz] couldn’t get past my jab. When he got close, we made sure to smother him. Then we reset and got back on the stick. We train to survive those body shots. We put the work in every day in the ring. We consistently grind and push ourselves to be great. We push ourselves to the limit.

“I was disappointed in my performance, because I wasn't planning on going the distance. I hurt the right hand, but I still had to use it, because he could not get past my jab. The jab definitely dictated everything I did. My speed offset everything he tried to do coming forward.

“We want a unification. We want to unify this division, or we're moving up in weight for another title. I want another belt.”

Diaz (26-1, 14 KOs) was effective dropping down and slamming hard left body shots on Russell’s sides. His problem was not throwing them enough. Diaz’s main strategy was to wear down the 29-year-old Washington, D.C.-based fighter.

“The game plan was to break him down with the body shots and start attacking him more in the later rounds,” said Diaz, 25, who landed 192/491 (39%) total punches, 41/128 (32%) jabs and 151/363 (42%) power shots. “But I started attacking him too late. I didn't pick it up until the 8th or 9th round. Gary Russell Jr. is a tremendous fighter and he did a great job keeping me at bay. I needed to start in sixth round.

“He was throwing a lot of pitter patter jabs to keep me at bay. He was trying to keep me guessing and make sure I had to think about coming in. Overall it was a good learning experienced and I'll definitely be back.

“I had a feeling he would try to stand with him and give the fans a knockout. I didn't think he would move quite as much as he did.”

Diaz seemed to be the bigger fighter. His best rounds were the second, fifth, 11th and 12th. Russell landed a total of 199/992 (20%), 61/587 (10%) jabs and 138 / 405 (34%) power shots.

“He wasn't hurting me with any shots,” Diaz maintained about Russell. “He was just very fast. It was keeping me guessing. When he threw combinations, I wasn't able to set my shots. I was a little bit hesitant.

“This will just make me a hungrier fighter. I hope I got the respect of a lot of fight fans. I wanted to become champion against the best featherweight fighter in the world. Tonight wasn't my night but I'm going to bounce back harder and I'll be champion soon.”

We want a unification. We want to unify this division, or we're moving up in weight for another title. I want another belt. WBC Featherweight World Champion Gary Russell Jr.

Russell brothers also victorious

Gary Antuanne Russell, the former 2016 U.S. junior welterweight Olympian, hardly worked up a sweat in dispensing the overmatched Wilmer Rodriguez (9-3, 7 KOs). A southpaw, Antuanne Russell (5-0, 5 KOs) knocked down Rodriguez twice before referee Bill Clancy called it over at 1:54 of the first.

It was hardly a fight.

“It's my hometown and I expect my hometown to be behind me and support me,” Antuanne Russell said. “This was a great experience competing here at MGM National Harbor. It was electric. It wasn't my first time, but it always feels like home. It fills my heart up to be able to excite my hometown fans and give something back to all of them.

“I have no scars or bruises, it was quick and fast, so whatever my coach says, I'll follow his lead. I followed his instructions tonight and executed. As a fighter I have to have a strong mental foundation. I wasn't worried about how my opponent came into this fight, just that I was at my peak. With that focus, I was able to get the job done.”

Gary Antonio Russell was the first of the Russell brothers to fight. In a scheduled six-round bantamweight weight, Antonio started the Russell trio off well by scoring first and four-round knockdowns over Jonathan Lecona Ramos (17-20-4, 6 KOs), before Clancy stopped it at :16 of the fifth.

Antonio Russell’s first knockdown was the result of a right hook to the body. Southpaw Antonio Russell (11-0, 9 KOs) did well working up and down, landing short, impactful shots. He may have had a habit of being impatient and trying to head hunt too much, missing a number of shots in the second and third rounds.

But Antonio Russell, sensing he had the fight under control, then methodically plowed away again in the fourth, getting his second knockdown when Ramos collapsed under a barrage of punches. Ramos kept taking Antonio Russell’s shots, until Clancy had seen enough and waved it over at :16 of the fifth.

Aleem dominates in return to win column

On the undercard, super middleweight Immanuel Aleem (18-1-1, 11 KOs) dominated Juan Carlos De Angel (20-9-1, 18 KOs) from start to finish, knocking down the Colombian fighter near the end of the fourth and eventually stopping him in six. Aleem was patient, methodical and calculating. He went well to the body, especially in the opening minute of the fifth, bending De Angel in half with a right uppercut to the gut.

Each time De Angel tried mounting an attack, Aleem walked through it as if he were flicking away pebbles. By the sixth round, it appeared a matter of time before Aleem would press the action and stop De Angel, but the Colombian found a way to hang around.

He nailed Aleem with a right to the body, which caused the fighter from Long Island, New York, to be somewhat hesitant. The round didn’t buy De Angel any more time.

Clancy called a halt after the sixth when De Angel couldn’t answer the bell.

For a complete recap of Russell vs Diaz, check out our fight page.

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