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Gary Russell Jr. defends against Rey Vargas

Image: Gary Russell Jr. defends against Rey Vargas

By Jeff Henninger: WBC featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr and Rey Vargas have agreed to a fight that will be taking place in May or June. The two have averted a purse bid and will be fighting a still-to-be-determined date and location by promoter Tom Brown of TGB Promotions.

The former WBC super bantamweight champion Vargas (34-0, 22 KOs) will be fighting for the first time in almost two years since the successful title defense of his 122-lb title against Tomoki Kameda in July 2019.

Vargas, 30, has had a leg problem that has kept him out of the ring for an extended period of time. The World Boxing Council made him Champion in Recess at 122. He’s now been replaced by Luis Nery as the new WBC super bantamweight champion.

Vargas captured the vacant WBC 122-lb title in February 2017 in defeating Gavin McDonnell by a 12 round majority decision in

Choosing to move up to featherweight, Rey Vargas was made mandatory to WBC champion Russell without needing to fight anybody.

Image: Gary Russell Jr. defends against Rey Vargas

Boxing’s longest reigning champion Russell Jr. (31-1, 18 KOs), will be making his sixth defense of his WBA 126-lb title in 2015 in defeat Jhonny Gonzalez.

In 2014, Russell Jr suffered his only career loss in losing to Vasily Lomachenko by a 12 round majority decision in a bid to win the vacant WBO 126-lb title. Russell gave Lomachenko many problems with his hand speed and combination punching in the first six rounds of the contest.

But in the second half of the fight, Lomachenko used movement and an in and out attacking style to take command of the fight to win a close 12 round decision.

Russell, 32, only fights once a year, which is why he’s only fought five times in the last six years. In his last successful title defense, Russell defeated WBC mandatory Tugstsogt Nyambayar by a 12 round unanimous decision last year in February.

If the 5’4 1/2′ Russell defeats the much taller 5’10 1/2″ Vargas, one or both of them can move up in weight to 130 or 135.

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It’s going to be a difficult fight for Russell Jr to deal with Vargas’s six-inch height and reach advantage. Russell has beaten tall fighters before but no one the size of Vargas.

Rey Vargas’ best wins:

  • Gavin McDonnell
  • Tomoki Kameda
  • Christian Esquivel
  • Alexander Munoz
  • Alexis Boureima Kabore
  • Ronny Rios
  • Oscar Negrete
  • Franklin Manzanilla
  • Azat Hovhannisyan

Russell has recently been looking for lucrative fights against fighters from super featherweight to welterweight. He even called out Devin Haney and Terence Crawford. It’s unclear whether Russell Jr will vacate his WBC 126 unless he wins another title.

Image: Gary Russell Jr. defends against Rey Vargas

He’s seemed reluctant to let go of the belt, even though it’s been clear for the last years that he has one that is willing to fight him.

Gary Russell’s best wins:

  • Joseph ‘Jo Jo’ Diaz Jr
  • Oscar Escandon
  • Jhonny Gonzalez
  • Kiko Martinez
  • Tugstsogt Nyambayar
  • Christopher Martin
  • Patrick Hyland

The recent defeat by former IBF featherweight champion Josh Warrington to fringe contender Mauricio Lara ruined a possible fight. Warrington is now looking to fight Lara in a rematch rather than face Russell.

If Russell Jr can get by Vargas, and that’s a big if, he’s got chances for interesting fights in other weight classes. As long as Russell doesn’t overprice himself, he could get some of the top lightweights to fight him.

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It would be a bad idea for Russell to go beyond the 135-lb division searching for interesting fights. The way he looked in his last fight against Nyambayar, it’s going to be hard enough for him to defeat Rey Vargas.

Going up to 130 to take on the likes of Oscar Valdez or Shakur Stevenson will be a huge task. 135 could be impossible for Russell unless he takes on a green fighter like Ryan Garcia.


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