WBC World Featherweight Champion Gary Russell Jr. figures to use his speed and skill to overcome the size and strength of Kiko Martinez Saturday night on PBC on SHOWTIME.
Both bouts are part of a triple-header, live on SHOWTIME (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
Russell (29-1, 17 KOs) is returning to the ring following his second straight 364-day layoff. Last May, he outpointed Joseph Diaz Jr., handing him his first loss as a pro. Russell has been able to overcome ring rust before, thus it's unlikely it will be a factor against Martinez.
“When I come to fight, I always bring these two gifts [extending his arms]," Russell said regarding his furloughs. “They say I’m like Santa Claus; I only come around once a year, and I can’t wait to deliver and display my talents once again.”
Martinez (39-8-2, 28 KOs) is a durable veteran who shocked unbeaten Jhonatan Romero in August 2013 to win a super bantamweight belt. The Spaniard defended it twice before losing a wide points decision to Carl Frampton in September 2014.
Martinez then suffered TKO losses to both Scott Quigg and Leo Santa Cruz in July 2015 and February 2016 respectively. Many thought that signaled the end of his run as a top fighter. Yet in May 2017, he gave unbeaten featherweight Josh Warrington all he could handle in a good scrap one year before Warrington would beat Frampton for a vacant world title.
Martinez has since won three of his last four, the lone non-victory being a May 2018 third-round technical draw versus Marc Vidal when Vidal suffered two bad cuts and could no longer continue. Martinez would win a wide unanimous decision in their October 2018 rematch.
Russell is adamant about unifying versus Leo Santa Cruz sometime this year. Martinez is likely the last roadblock to that much-anticipated showdown. A bout between Russell and Santa Cruz is one of the best that can be made south of the welterweight division and would be Russell's first truly marquee matchup since suffering a majority decision loss to Vasiliy Lomachenko in 2014.
Russell turns 31 in a few weeks. Usually, hitting the 30-year hurdle is when the smaller weight fighters start to wind down a career, but Russell has avoided much of the wear and tear of his peers. He's never really been in any wars and has just 30 bouts under his belt.
Russell has some of the fastest hands in boxing today. He's scored one-punch, right-hand knockouts like a featherweight Roy Jones Jr. The two have a bit in common. Russell is able to get away with defensive lapses because of his blazing speed the same way Jones did at the peak of his powers. His opponents typically rely on strength, trying to overpower the 5-foot-4 ½ featherweight. Most are unsuccessful.
Martinez is a sizable underdog on Saturday night. He knows what he is up against in Russell's speed, but thinks he's made the proper adjustments to emerge victorious.
“He is very talented, very fast and intelligent,” Martinez said in an interview with RingTV. “But I improved my defense a lot in the last fights and I think I can hurt him with hard punches. I think that he is not very strong.”
In his title win against Romero, Martinez relied on his strength to bully his opponent on the ropes and bludgeon him with body shots, ultimately wearing him down to a TKO stoppage. If he can get Russell on the ropes for any length of time, that's his best chance.
Martinez is determined to become a two-division champion before hanging up the gloves. At 33-years-old, this is probably his last opportunity to do so.
Russell and Martinez will be looking to steal the show from their heavyweight counterparts in the main event. If Russell is looking to setup a fight with Santa Cruz, or even super featherweight champion Gervonta Davis as he's called him out, an impressive outing will make the fans want to intercede on his behalf. Kiko Martinez has upset the apple cart before, and he'll be looking to do the same Saturday night.
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