It sticks to him like a stain that he can’t wash out. Each opponent Gary Russell Jr. meets wears the face of Vasyl Lomachenko, the only fighter to ever beat Russell as a pro. And each fight Russell has had since that June 2014 setback means another step toward self-redemption in a Lomachenko rematch.
So did Oscar Escandon really stand a chance against the 126-pound world champion Saturday night before a crowd of 2,345 at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland?
Fighting at home for the first time as a pro—as well as on the same card as two of his younger brothers and on his trainer-father Gary Russell Sr.’s 58th birthday—the Washington, D.C., native excited the heavily partisan crowd with a seventh-round TKO in his second title defense.
“First and foremost, I got to say happy birthday to my father,” Gary Russell Jr. said. “Secondly, I’d like to tell all the fans that came to support me: I love you all. Thank you.
“I fought a tough competitor. I knew Escandon wanted to come and bring his best. I knew he was going to come forward. I was ready for him. We are warriors.”
Russell (28-1, 17 KOs) dominated the fight from start to finish, opening by banging the body and using different angles from his southpaw stance to penetrate Escandon’s defense.
It was quickly apparent that Escandon (25-3, 17 KOs) couldn’t do anything to stifle the 28-year-old champion. Any attempt at a punch was greeted by a Russell three-punch combination.
In the third round, a Russell overhand right to the head felled Escandon for just the second time in his career. The 32-year-old Colombian got up wobbly and Russell resumed his attack, bouncing blows all over the shorter challenger.
The subsequent rounds followed the same pattern. Escandon came crouching forward, looking to get into Russell’s grill. Each time, his attempts came with punishing consequences.
Finally, the end came in the seventh. Another Russell right hook staggered Escandon, who tried to take a knee to regroup but referee Harvey Dock stepped in and waved an end to the fight 59 seconds into the round.
“I was getting my rhythm going and I felt like Gary was getting tired,” Escandon said. “I didn't see him coming with the big punch he threw at the end and that was it. I went down and was hoping to get a 10 count, but the referee didn't give it to me and he stopped the fight.
“I knew that Gary was going to go fast from the first to the fifth round and it was part of my strategy to let him do that and get tired. It didn't work unfortunately.”
After his victory, Russell looked ahead toward potential opponents in the 126-pound division, but he also expressed his desire to avenge his one defeat to a champion who now reigns at 130.
“Lomachenko, that’s a no-brainer. I don’t want to do it for the fans or for the media, I want to do it for myself,” Russell said. “And I want to do it twice. I’ll knock him out the first time and then he’ll want me to fight him again.
“I’d love to unify against all the other guys in the featherweight division. I’d like Leo Santa Cruz, Lee Selby and Oscar Valdez.”
Andre Dirrell wins interim 168-pound title with DQ of Uzcategui
In the co-main event, Andre Dirrell won an interim 168-pound title by disqualification when Jose Uzcategui (26-2, 22 KOs) slugged him just after the bell ended the eighth round. Referee Bill Clancy ruled that Dirrell was unable to continue because of the punch, which knocked the 2004 U.S. Olympian face-first to the canvas.
With the win, Dirrell (26-2, 16 KOs) secured a rematch with world champion James DeGale, who is recovering from injuries suffered in his draw with Badou Jack in January.
Also, former two-division world champion Rances Barthelemy made his 140-pound debut with a unanimous decision over Kiryl Relikh (21-2, 19 KOs) in a title elimination bout. The win puts Barthelemy (26-0, 13 KOs) in line to challenge Julius Indongo for his world title.
For a complete overview of Russell vs Escandon, visit our fight page.