It has been a while since Gary Russell, Jr. has been in the ring to face an opponent.
On Saturday, it will be a year-long wait for the WBC featherweight champion as he makes his 4th defense of that title. This time around it will be against the highest ranked contender for the belt as Joseph “Jo Jo” Diaz Jr. steps up to try to take it away from the Capitol Heights, Maryland native. The 25 year old comes in with a record of 26-0 with 14 of those wins by way of knockout, and in his last fight he got one against Victor Terrazas in Indio, California. After that fight, he showed his confidence and pride in calling out the champion.
“Gary Russell Jr, you’re next,” saidDiaz after that win in February. ”I’m ready to have that world title around my waist. Once I defeat him, I’m going to give the fight fans what they want to see: champions against champions.”
However, he may have awoken a “sleeping giant” of sorts as Russell has been waiting to face someone of Diaz’s caliber. While “Jo Jo” may have the Olympic background as he represented the U.S. in the bantamweight division, he may not have faced someone the level of Russell, who has been told that he has the fastest hands in the sport. That has led to him getting three consecutive TKO victories leading up to this fight, and he feels that Diaz will suffer the same fate.
“I don’t see this being a long night,” Russell stated days after the fight was announced. “If he gets reckless, it might end early. I don’t plan on going the distance with anyone I step in the ring with. He’s in for a rude awakening. I don’t feel as though he has the punching power, the hand speed or the ring IQ to do anything to me.”
Earlier today, both guys came into the weigh-in at or near the correct weight, as the challenger Diaz came in at the featherweight limit of 126 pounds while Russell, the champion came in at 125.5 pounds. There may have been some concern as to if Diaz could make weight as he was walking around 6 to 10 pounds over, but today he was able to make it to 126. He plans to gain weight and be bigger come fight night. He has also said through the week thus far that he will be able to nullify the speed of Russell’s punches.
“Saturday night, I’m gonna be the bigger man in there…I’m going to walk down Gary Russell and break him down physically and mentally,” Diaz stated after the weigh-in. “I respect Russell’s speed, but at the end of the day, speed is not going to beat everything. You have to have the right timing and I have the right timing and I’m able to adapt and adjust to any style.”
The champion responded with confidence that seems to have been present for most of the week. He feels that Diaz is not unlike anyone he has seen in the ring before, as he has won 28 of his 29 fights with the lone loss by majority decision to current WBA lightweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko. The overall experience that he has had in the professional squared circle is a key factor in this upcoming bout, and Russell intends to show the world how good he still is.
“I feel as though that I am the best fighter in the (featherweight) division, hands down,” Russell remarked. “I shouldn’t be going the distance with anyone in my division. If I do, it would be a disappointment to myself…”
“I don’t plan on going the distance…we ain’t going 12.”
On Saturday night, we’ll see if the former Olympian can dethrone the champ, or if speed overwhelms youth.