A high-level, high-stakes battle goes down Saturday night as Gary Russell Jr. defends his world featherweight title versus the dangerous Tugstsogt Nyambayar live on SHOWTIME.
This Saturday, February 8, live on SHOWTIME and atop a Premier Boxing Champions event from PPL Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT), Russell defends his WBC World Featherweight title against mandatory challenger Nyambayar in a bout guaranteed to be one of the more compelling contests of the year.
The SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING telecast will also feature former world champions Guillermo Rigondeaux and Liborio Solís battling for the vacant WBA World Bantamweight title and Jaime Arboleda vs. Jayson Veléz in a 12-round WBA Super Featherweight title eliminator.
The story on Gary Russell Jr. should revolve around his undisputable raw talent and skill, as well as his status as the longest-reigning WBC world champ. But talk of Russell often centers on his inactivity.
Averaging just one bout per year since beating Jhonny Gonzalez for the featherweight title in 2015, the Capitol Heights, Maryland native blames his lack of activity on fellow high-end featherweights and their unwillingness to meet his challenge.
Whatever the case, Russell wants the big fights in his weight range and has expressed frustration at not being able to get the next-level challenges he craves.
On the other side of the ring, Mongolia's Tugstsogt Nyambayar is looking at this fight as his chance to prove himself on the main stage.
The 2012 Olympic silver medalist, who now lives in the U.S. and trains out of Las Vegas, already has wins over two interim world titlists on his short 11-fight pro resume and has shown himself to be the real deal when it comes to skill, talent, and world class execution.
A national hero in his home country, the 27-year-old "King Tug" is aiming to become only the second Mongolian fighter to win one of the four recognized world titles.
The WBC featherweight title will be up for grabs in this contest and it'll be Russell's fifth defense of that belt. Nyambayar will be looking to win his first world title in just his twelfth professional fight.
Few fighters are as naturally gifted as Russell. The 2008 Olympian is blessed with, arguably, the fastest hands in all of boxing and, overall, a keen boxing IQ that gives him a good sense of where to be in the ring and when to throw punches.
The 31-year-old southpaw's game is rooted in solid fundamentals and efficiency. Unlike many other athletically gifted fighters, he often opts to stay in the pocket against opposition, utilizing short steps to create angles for offense.
On defense, that same smart positioning makes him a hard target to reach.
Nyambayar is poised, clinical, and mature with good footwork and balance. A well-schooled fighter, the Mongolian is solid or better in every aspect of the game and has shown himself to be unflappable in battle.
Offensively, he has picture-perfect technique and throws crisp, accurate combinations. A quick, strong right hand is his best weapon and it can be delivered with fight-ending impact from any angle.
“ "This is going to be an exciting fight for everyone watching on February 8. ” Undefeated Featherweight Contender - Tugstsogt Nyambayar
Defensively, Nyambayar is solid and adept at using his gloves to pick off punches. He can be touched, though, and an opponent with hand speed could reveal any weaknesses he may have on defense.
Gary Russell Jr. via RingTV
"None of the champions are willing to step up and fight me, so I’m forced to fight these younger, hungrier guys...I keep fighting these guys with everything to gain and nothing to lose.
"I think [Nyambayar’s] a good fighter; he’s definitely talented and he’s a 2012 Olympic silver medalist. He is a threat to any of these guys in the upper echelons right now. He’s got a good right hand, and you have to be prepared for anybody. You have these small eight-ounce gloves on and that’s where defense and discipline come in. I just don’t feel he has enough in his game and [enough] professional experience to deal with me."
"This is going to be an exciting fight for everyone watching on February 8. Gary Russell Jr. is a great champion who is very talented, but he has the WBC belt and that's what I want. I'm training hard to win this fight and I will be ready for anything that Russell brings to the ring."
Although only one of the fighters in Saturday's contest is a "name" fighter, both are truly elite-level talents. In a very basic sense, the bout comes down to Russell's speed and skill versus Nyambayar’s skill and precision.
Nyambayar is best when fighting at a distance and at a controlled pace. Yet he can fight inside as well and mix it up when action gets heated. Russell is similarly versatile with an ability to fight inside or outside, utilizing his preferred controlled, tactical approach, but also able to adapt to a more frenzied pace when necessary. On paper, the two seem to match up well against one another, with a likely end result being a compelling tactical bout fought at a very high level.
The big question is how well the challenger will be able to handle the champion's hand speed and all-around athleticism.
Old school boxing wisdom says that timing beats speed. It also says that a good right hand is a southpaw's worst enemy. Both factors point to Nyambayar being a tough out for the defending champ.
But Russell is much more of a proven entity at the world class level and his challenger has yet to face anyone as remotely talented or as accomplished as him.
If Russell overlooks this challenge while eying mega-bouts in the distance, fans might witness a very violent passing of the torch. If Nyambayar can't keep up with the speed and talent in front of him, he'll be taken apart by the defending world champ. No matter what, though, this Saturday's featherweight title bout is truly a must-watch battle.
For a closer look at Russell vs Nyambayar, check out our fight night page.