Gary Russell Jr. vs. Kiko Martinez in the works for April 27
By Jim Dower: WBA World featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr. (29-1, 17 KOs) will be making a voluntary defense against former IBF super bantamweight champion Kiko Martinez (39-8-2, 28 KOs) on April 27 on Showtime, according to ESPN. The fight isn’t official yet.
Assuming Kiko Martinez is Russell’s only fight for 2019, there are going to be a lot of angry boxing fans. The fans want to see Russell Jr. fight quality opposition, and Martinez is viewed as a shot fighter in the eyes of a lot of boxing fans. Russell Jr. vs. Martinez would have been a good fight if it had taken place seven years ago when Martinez was still fighting at a high level, but not now. Martinez is losing too often, and only showing himself capable of beating lesser fighters.
This is an odd choice for the 30-year-old Russell Jr., who has been fighting only once a year since 2015. Martinez, 33, has suffered a number of defeats in the last five years of his career in losing to Josh Warrington, Carl Frampton [x 2], Scott Quigg and Leo Santa Cruz. Although Martinez hasn’t lost a fight in two years, he hasn’t faced anyone of note during that time beating Marc Vidal, Franklin Varela (22-33) and Lorenzo Parra (32-12-2).
Russell Jr. recently defeated #1 WBC Joseph Diaz Jr. by a one-sided 12 round unanimous decision. That was a good victory for Russell, and easily his biggest win since he stopped former World Boxing Council 126 lb champion Jhonny Gonzalez in the 4th round in March 2015.
The choice of Kiko Martinez as Russell Jr’s next opponent won’t be a popular one with the hardcore boxing fans, who know of the Spanish fighter for his losses to Santa Cruz, Frampton and Quigg. Martinez has excellent punching power, but he’s failed each time he’s stepped it up against the upper echelon fighters at super bantamweight and featherweight. The casual fans probably won’t mind seeing Russell Jr. face Martinez, as they would have little who the talented fighters are at featherweight anyway, so it’s not a big deal that Russell is taking an easy fight. However, it’s not a good idea for Russell Jr. to take soft opponents, because his popularity would increase by fighting better opponents that create news and hype about his fights. He’s not going to get that by fighting Martinez, who is little more than a fringe contender at this point in his career.
Russell Jr. has won his last five fights since losing to Vasiliy Lomachenko by a 12 round unanimous decision five years ago in 2014. Russell Jr. fought Lomachenko tough, and gave him problems with his hand speed and combination punching. Lomachenko was able to adapt by using movement, and fast in and out attacks to land his shots to win a decision. Since that loss, Russell Jr. has gone on a five-fight run in beating Christopher Martin, Jhonny Gonzalez, Patrick Hyland, Oscar Escandon and Oscar Joseph Diaz Jr. What’s troubling is Russell Jr. is averaging only one fight per year, which is far less than what he should be doing if he wants to maximize his time as a world champion, build a large fan base, and make the most possible money.