The undefeated 126-pounder is considered one of the sport’s best-kept secrets. His fortunes could change overnight if he can defeat respected WBC World Featherweight Champion Gary Russell Jr. Saturday night on SHOWTIME.
Tugstsogt Nyambayar has been separated from his family in Mongolia for the better part of the last six years. He’s made every sacrifice that’s been asked of him on a quest to become world champion.
Now, it’s all in front of him.
This Saturday, February 8, Nyambayar (11-0, 9 KOs) gets the opportunity he’s worked for as he takes on WBC World Featherweight Champion Gary Russell Jr. (30-1, 18 KOs) at the PPL Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The bout headlines a PBC on SHOWTIME triple-header, beginning at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m.
Nicknamed “King Tug,” Nyambayar, who won silver for Mongolia at the 2012 Olympics, is the country’s biggest world title hope since Lakva Sim earned the WBA’s vacant 135-pound title against Miguel Callist in 2004—only to lose the belt in his next bout.
“I’m happy and excited for this opportunity. I’m very focused on this fight right now,” said Nyambayar. “I wanted to be a boxer ever since I was a kid. I started watching all of the fights, and since there was only one Mongolian champion, I wanted to become the best ever. I have all of the tools. I bring all kinds of angles and I’m a pressure fighter. I can adjust to any kind of fight.”
The 27-year-old Nyambayar hails from the same city as Sim, but he wants to create a different kind of legacy for himself and Mongolia. Nyambayar started falling in love with the sweet science when he was a six-year-old hitting sandbags and doing mitts with his grandfather.
He idolized the likes of Manny Pacquiao and went on to tally an amateur record of 140-10 before moving to Los Angeles in 2014. He left his family behind, including son Giikhod, who is now six-years-old. In 2015, Nyambayar made his professional debut under coach Joe Goosen.
Nyambayar’s three previous fights were with trainer John Pullman. Now, he’s joined forces with new head coach Ismael Salas in Las Vegas to prepare for Russell, who has held his title since 2015 and possesses arguably the fastest hands in the sport.
“Gary is a great champion. He’s the best and toughest opponent I’ve ever faced in my professional career,” said Nyambayar. “I’ve always respected him as one of the best boxers and top-level fighters.”
Nyambayar sought the services of Salas for some time, but they were never able to connect because Salas traveled all over the world to tend to his international pool of fighters, which include Erislandy Lara, Yordenis Ugas, Joe Joyce, Felix Verdijo and Robeisy Ramirez — the fighter who beat Nyambayar in the 2012 London Games for the gold medal.
“ After the fight, when I win, everyone will know my name. ” Undefeated Featherweight Contender - Tugstsogt Nyambayar
After Salas settled in Sin City and planted a flag at the Salas Boxing Academy, he and Nyambayar connected.
“Ismael is one of the best high-level trainers today,” said Nyambayar. “I love working mitts with him.”
“I’m very happy to have him in my group of fighters,” added Salas. “He has such a deep amateur experience. It’s not been difficult to click with him. He has the determination to be a world champion. That’s the important thing any fighter can have. It changes many things. He’s hungry for success, and that’s why he’s working so hard.”
Salas said Nyambayar must beat Russell with superior speed if he wants his championship aspirations to materialize.
“Gary Russell has fast hands. We need to be faster,” said Salas. “We’ve had a great camp. We’re ready. He’s looked very solid. When he came to me, he was a bit stiff and predictable, and we fixed that. We added more flexibility to his moves. Attack, defense and counter. It’s a combination of those three fundamental areas.”
Salas said Nyambayar has also been exposed to better sparring — even mixing it up in the ring with former amateur rival-turned-friend in the Cuban Ramirez.
Nyambayar is also relishing and embracing his underdog role after flying under the radar for most of his pro career, even though all of his fights took place in the United States. Nyambayar’s knockout power has called for quick nights; he’s racked up just 50 rounds in 11 fights. He most recently decisioned Claudio Marrero in January 2019.
“It’s fine if they don’t know me or are writing me off,” said Nyambayar. “After the fight, when I win, everyone will know my name.”
The orthodox fighter eventually has plans to move to the 130- and 135-pound divisions before calling it a career. He wants to become a multiple-division word champion, and his first shot arrives Saturday.
Should he pull off the shocker against Russell, even the syllable challenged will learn to speak his name as one of the sport’s most credible titleholders.
“I just want to be a great champion and a role model for the younger generation.” said Nyambayar. “Everything in my career will change when I win. I’ve been waiting for this moment ever since I turned pro. I sacrificed so much to be here. I want to be the next Mongolian to become a world champion.”
For a closer look at Tugstsogt Nyambayar, check out his fighter page.