On Saturday, March 28, at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas and live on Showtime Championship Boxing, Jhonny Gonzalez (57-8, 48 KOs) will be taking on Gary Russell Jr. (25-1, 14 KOs) in an attempt to make the third defense of his WBC featherweight title.
It’s hard to believe that Gonzalez, who is a sixteen-year veteran with a solid 11-4 record in world title fights is only 33-years of age. Packed with names such as Israel Vazquez, Fernando Montiel, Mark Johnson, Gerry Penalosa, Hozumi Hasegawa, Daniel Ponce de Leon, and Abner Mares, Gonzalez’s resume is second to none among the lighter weight fighters.
In his last bout, Gonzalez battered and ultimately stopped a badly faded Jorge Arce in a bout best remembered for Jhonny’s touching restraint against the aged Mexican icon. In Mexico, Gonzalez’s performance and class in dealing with a legend won him the hearts of a public that had supported him in the past, but had never really embraced him the way they have done with others.
But Gonzalez is venturing north of the border and away from his new-found boost in popularity to take a risky big money bout in what will be hostile territory. Make no mistake about it, the Mexico City resident will likely have more support from fans at ringside; it’s just that he has a belt that Russell and Russell’s advisor, Al Haymon, want very, very much.
Presumably, the idea is for Russell to beat Gonzalez and take that world champion designation to one of the Premier Boxing Champions shows on NBC, CBS, ABC, ESPN, or Spike TV.
But that’s going to be easier said than done as, aside from a huge edge in experience, Gonzalez wields deadly punching power in support of underrated boxing skills and extreme mental toughness.
Gonzalez is also riding high on an 18-1 streak since his shocking third round TKO loss to Toshiaki Nishioka in 2009– the only loss coming via controversial technical decision to Daniel Ponce de Leon in a headbutt-marred 2012 clash.
Russell, meanwhile, will be coming into this bout with his own set of advantages.
The 26-year-old southpaw will have the edge in both hand and foot speed, as well as overall athleticism. Russell’s deep amateur experience also offsets some of the weak matchmaking that has characterized much of his professional career.
Still, Russell, as a pro, is green in some areas. And that became evident in his decision loss to Vasyl Lomachenko for the vacant WBO featherweight title in June of 2014.
Despite the naysers’ exaggerated telling of the Lomachenko loss, Russell accounted well for himself in that bout, simply losing out to a batter-skilled and more aggressive fighter. Russell blames the loss on a lack of energy caused by the introduction of a new strength and conditioning coach. The reality is that he simply lost to the better man that night. But a majority decision loss to the talented native of the Ukraine is hardly a point of shame for any fighter and Russell need not hang his head.
As for the Gonzalez-Russell match-up, itself…Well, whenever we have a veteran puncher matched against a younger, faster boxer, the entire bout rides on timing.
Gonzalez will have to work to time the speedy Russell while cutting off the ring and trying to get to his body. Maybe some rough stuff– a few shots to the hips– will also be necessary. With Ignacio “Nacho” Beristain in his corner, Gonzalez will surely have a concrete game plan going into this title defense.
Although a well-timed left hook or right hand could end the fight early, the threat of that well-timed power shot is what will keep Russell alert and looking to use his legs. Barring a one-punch crushing end, Gonzalez will have to slow Russell down long enough to do damage and win rounds. That won’t be an easy feat.
Russell will have to be alert and focused on avoiding Gonzalez’s long right hand and deadly left hook. He’ll have to alternate the speed at which he engages and moves. He’ll also have to show some awkward angles to keep the Mexican off balance. Being faster simply won’t be enough to keep Russell safe in this fight. He has to be smart about using his speed– a mindset that he has yet to really show as a pro.
But the deciding factor may be that Gonzalez has had a history of struggling against southpaws. Gonzalez’s last three losses and five of his eight career defeats have come at the hands of southpaws. Two of his three career knockout losses have happened in bouts against lefties. Most recently, in his last outings against left-handed fighters, Ponce de Leon and light-hitting Eusebio Osejo scored knockdowns against Gonzalez in consecutive contests.
Given Russell’s southpaw stance, his edge in speed, and, very possibly, a “favorable” judging environment in Vegas, we could very well see a title change. It would appear that all the former amateur star would have to do is stay on his feet and utilize his physical advantages.
But don’t count Gonzalez out. Jhonny’s always just one punch away from a highlight reel knockout and you can bet they he and Beristain have been working on their timing to facilitate just such an ending.
On the televised Showtime undercard, 24-year-old junior middleweight on the rise, Jermell Charlo (25-0, 11 KOs) will take on 28-year-old Vanes Martirosyan (35-1-1, 21 KOs) in a ten round bout that could see the winner step up to a world title shot by year’s end.