On February 8th we get a genuinely compelling world title fight as unbeaten Mongolian Tugstsogt Nyambayar (11-0, 9) challenges American speedster Gary Russell Jr (30-1, 18), who makes his annual appearance for 2020. The bout will be Nyamabayar's first world title shot, and comes as a mandatory title challenge, whilst Russell will be seeking his 5th defense since winning the title, in March 2015.
Aged 31 Russell JR was once touted as one of the faces of the future for boxing. He showed flashes of pure brilliance early in his career with frightening speed and accuracy, impressive combinations, good boxing basics and a strong amateur background. He was 20 when he made his debut, way back in 2009, an was tipped as a genuine mega star thanks to his strong amateur background and freakish speed. Sadly though his career has failed to take off as many had hoped, in part due to a loss in 2014 to Vasyl Lomachenko, for the WBO Featherweight title. Despite the loss to Lomachenko Russell Jr did claim the WBC title just 9 months later but hasn't yet shone since winning the belt.
Since winning the WBC title in 2015, when he stopped Jhonny Gonzalez, Russell Jr's career has become a joke. He has defended the title 4 times, but the only real wins of value there are his 2017 win over Oscar Escandon and his competitive win over Jospeh Diaz. Those wins have been sandwiched by wins over Patrick Hyland, way back in 2016, and Koki Martinez in 2019, yes a 2019 version of Kiko Martinez got a world title fight!
Although still quick and well schooled Russell Jr's prime is behind him and he turns 32 in June. For a fighter who's speed was his greatest asset this is the age where that assets starts to falter. Coming his age with inactivity will not help him, or his reign as world champion.
At 27 years old Nyambayar is coming into his prime, and the heavy handed Mongolian has earned his shot by beating other top contenders, such as the aforementioned Oscar Escandon and the awkward Caludio Marrero. Although not the quickest fighter out there Nyambayar combines technical skills, physical strength, impressive size, and power. His hands are like rocks and what he hits he hurts. Sadly there are issues with what he does, and his balance is a major question mark, as is chin. Nyamabayar has been dropped several times in recent fights and although he's never looked hurt as such, the fact he's been down is a worry.
Although Nyambayar has only fought 11 times as a professional he is a former amateur standout. He managed to claim silver medals at the World Championships and the Olympics. This amateur background is solid and shows him to be a lot more experienced than his professional record shows, so those looking at his record and questioning his experience are perhaps asking the wrong question. However Nyambayar has suffered a number of injuries and since making his debut in 2015 he has rarely been active himself, with just a single fight in each of the last 2 years. That is a big issue.
When it comes to this fight this is a hard one to call, due in part to activity, or rather lack of, of the two men involved in the contest. Russell Jr's speed would be a nightmare for the Mongolian to deal with, if the champion was sharp and on point. However the level of competition that Russell Jr has been fighting at really doesn't let us know what he still has in the tank. On the other hand Nyambayar has the skills to neutralise some of that speed, and the power to hurt Russell Jr, if he lands clean. The Monbolian also has significant size advantages and will be looking to use those to control the range of the bout.
At their best we would expect Russell Jr to take a decision, play smart and play safe to rack up points. This February however we wouldn't be surprised by the younger, fresher, bigger Nyamabayar out working, out fighting and out muscling the smaller, older, Russell Jr, to take a close decision, and free the WBC title from Russell Jr's clutches after one of the worst reigns in modern history.
Prediction - Nyambayar UD12
World Title Previews
The biggest fights get broken down as we try to predict who will come out on top in the up coming world title bouts.