Going into the fight at the PPL Center some fans and followers of the sport were saying that Tugstogt Nyambayar would be a very tough opponent for the WBC featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr. On Saturday night we saw that prediction be put to the test and the people seemed to be right, but Russell got through that test.
After twelve rounds of good action, Russell (31-1, 18 KOs) retained his title by unanimous decision and completed his fifth defense of that title against his mandatory challenger Nyambayar (11-1, 10 KOs). The scores were 118-110, 117-111, and 116-112 for the Washington DC born champion.
It was a display of tactical skill by two Olympians as Russell was a member of the US Olympic team and Nyambayar won a silver medal in the 2012 Olympics. In the first few rounds, Russell displayed the hand speed that he is known for but Nyambayar walked forward to get in power shots when in close range. He landed a couple of right hands in the beginning of the fight while Russell was landing jabs and combinations to score the rounds in his favor. It seemed like Russell had a good lead halfway into the bout and then he picked up the pace by becoming more aggressive through fighting off his lead foot. This opened the door for Nyambayar to land more power shots and connect to the body.
There were instances where the Mongolian connected some clean hooks and uppercuts on the champion, but not enough to take the momentum away from Russell. The jab and a double left was enough for Russell to prevent Nyambayar from being more successful in his first world title fight. In the tail end of the fight Russell scored power shots to nullify the pressure of Nyambayar, and his foot movement was key throughout the fight to secure the victory.
Russell felt that his experience was a major factor in his win over Nyambayar. “The difference was ring generalship, hand speed and boxing IQ,” Russell stated after the fight. “He only had 11 pro fights, of course he was an Olympic silver medalist, but he only had those 11 pro fights. I’ve had over 30 and I think my experience was enough to overcome and win this fight.”
He knew what he was up against in Nyambayar and pointed out the toughness of his opponent. He also attributed his win to his work ethic and preparation before going into the ring.
“It was definitely the kind of fight that I expected. I knew that I was fighting a tough competitor. We knew he’d be strong, but I felt like my hand speed, my ring generalship and my boxing intellect would ultimately overcome in this fight and that’s what happened.”
Despite a great effort from Nyambayar, he came up short in his first attempt to become a world champion. He was disappointed, but humble in defeat. “It wasn’t my night,” he said. “(Russell) was the better man tonight. He is a great champion who fought a great fight.”
The lack of activity at the start of the fight is what Nyambayar feels is what led him to losing the decision.
“I didn’t do my work the way I was supposed to. I made a mistake by waiting for him during the fight.”
While it was a learning lesson of sorts for Nyambayar, Russell treats this win as one that could be his last defense of the WBC featherweight title. He mentioned earlier this week that he would move up to 135 to fight the likes of Gervonta Davis and Vasyl Lomachenko in a rematch, and he repeated that statement tonight. It would mean that he goes up two divisions, but he is up for the challenge.
“If we have to move up in weight for these top fighters to feel like they have an advantage and take the fight, then we’ll do it.”
Cover photo by Amanda Westcott of Showtime