Escandon brimming with confidence despite long odds to upset Russell

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Oscar Escandon knows almost no one is giving him a chance to dethrone Gary Russell Jr. as world champion.

Oscar Escandon

Oscar Escandon won a 126-pound interim title in his last fight after competing at 122 in his previous four bouts. The Colombian is challenging Gary Russell Jr. for his 126-pound world title Saturday night in Maryland. (Mario Serrano/Team Escandon)

The Colombian challenger has no doubts about his ability to take down Russell on his home turf, though, heading into their 126-pound title fight Saturday night at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland (Showtime, 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT).

While Gary Russell Jr. (27-1, 16 KOs) has had little trouble in earning and defending his world title in his last two bouts, Oscar Escandon (25-2, 17 KOs) said he’s being severely overlooked heading into this fight.

“I just feel I’m the stronger man with the better power,” Escandon said. “He’s a very skilled fighter, but I’m determined to bring home the title, and my will is what is going to get me over the hump. My defense is underestimated and will be on display come fight night.”

Escandon, 32, is tough and takes a good punch. Oftentimes, the 2004 Olympian is willing to take a shot in order to deliver two or three in return.

Even winning an interim 126-pound title in his last fight in March 2016, Escandon had to overcome a flash knockdown in the second round before storming back to knock out Robinson Castellanos in Round 7.

But he knows that strategy won’t pay off against Russell, and that he’ll have to make the quick-handed, hard-hitting southpaw work especially hard to land punches Saturday night.

ā€œ [Gary Russell Jr. is] a very skilled fighter, but Iā€™m determined to bring home the title, and my will is what is going to get me over the hump. ā€ Oscar Escandon, 126-pound world title challenger

Russell and Escandon had been scheduled to fight on March 11 until Escandon suffered a back injury during training and had to postpone the bout. Now fully recovered, the 5-foot-1½-inch Colombian said he will have no trouble moving freely in the ring against Russell.

“I'm 100 percent ready,” Escandon said. “I'm ready to go.”

It's not just being pain-free that has increased Escandon's confidence. Competing at 126 pounds again after a four-fight campaign at 122 has given him a psychological boost, as well.

Escandon struggled to make weight when he faced Moises Flores for an interim 122-pound world title in April 2015, and he came up on the short end of a split decision for the second time in four fights.

That outcome led Escandon to move back up to 126 pounds, where he appeared far more comfortable in his stoppage of Castellanos.

“Against Flores, I feel I should have let my hands go more,” Escandon said. “That fight was at super bantamweight where I was struggling to make weight, but I have no excuses. Flores was the better man that night.

"At featherweight, I feel strong and it really showed in the Castellanos fight, when I knocked him out.”

But Castellanos isn't Gary Russell Jr., who in addition to being the champion is also a Washington, D.C., native who will be fighting close to home.

To that fact, Escandon simply shrugged. He knows he is facing an uphill battle trying to take the title in the champ’s backyard. He knows few people give him a chance to do just that. He insists, however, that he will not be denied.

“If the fight goes the distance, I have faith the judges will score the fight fairly,” Escandon said. “But my goal is not to leave it in the judges' hands.”

For a complete look at Russell vs Escandon, visit our fight page.

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