Showtime made a risky decision to headline a doubleheader with A-sides who mainly had in common that they are ultra-talented fighters who routinely disappoint us.
Guillermo Rigondeaux is at times virtually unwatchable. Gary Russell Jr. can also rarely be watched, because he fights about once a year — literally so, since 2015.
All in all, though, Saturday night delivered. Sure, Rigo handed in one of his least-boxed performances to date. But Russell-Tugstsogt Nyambayar was a worthy main event, and the third fight, the one that started it off, was a joy.
The featherweight showdown between Russell and Nyambayar didn’t start as though it would be much more than Russell out-quicking and completely flummoxing Nyambayar, who, with only 11 pro fights, didn’t look to have enough experience.
Nyambayar’s team boasted that timing beats speed. It does, sometimes. It doesn’t happen that often when the fast guy also has timing. You don’t see fighters triple jabs that often. Tug looked way out of his depth.
He changed things in the 5th and 6th, when he began attacking in combination and targeting the body. Combination punching and pressure — now that’s another way to counter speed.
Again, though, Russell isn’t just a one-dimensional Quicksilver. He can bring the heat, too, and it’s what he did to disrupt the momentum Nyambayar was starting to develop. In the 7th, Russell started pressuring Tug back. It kept the Mongolian (who had a bizarrely vocal audience on hand for Allentown, Pa.) off his back. Well, for a while. Tug amped up his work rate in response, and over the final four rounds, we had a battle fought on even terms.
TQBR had it 116-112 for Russell. The official judges had it 116-112, 117-111, 118-110.
It came off as the kind of fight that proved Nyambayar belongs among the contenders; it was the hardest battle the considerably talented Russell has had since his lone loss to Vasily Lomachenko. Russell’s threat to move up to 130 or even 135 would normally sound like a bad idea, but at age 31, he needs bigger names — and other than Leo Santa Cruz or Josh Warrington, there’s not as much at 126 if he can’t get them. Gervonta Davis’s ass might deservedly be in jail soon, though, and it’s not clear why Loma would bother with a rematch. Whoever he can get among those guys, though, is worth it for him.
Rigo, though. That wasn’t good.
The junior featherweight champ moved down to 118 at age 39 (if not older, what with some Cuban pro athletes notoriously older than advertised). That’s not easy! So, credit for that. And for the two times he actually tried to hurt Liborio Solis, himself an old man with a 20 year boxing career. He dropped Solis with a left uppercut followed by two more clubbing lefts in the 7th. He wobbled him in the 10th with a straight left after a nifty dodge out of the corner, too.
Other than that, all that was notable was that Solis outworked him in so many rounds you had little choice but to give them to him. And, maybe, that Rigo in the 12th round was doing some show-off footwork that could only be described as… galloping? Also maybe maybe, that Rigo got only a split-decision win over someone so far beneath him in talent. Anyone hoping after an actual exciting fight in Rigo’s last bout that he’d continue his trend was (yep) disappointed.
That opening bout was fire, at least.
Jaime Arboleda weathered a final round, final minute knockdown to take a split decision victory over Jayson Velez in a crossroads bout where both men fought like they were very hungry for the W. The two junior lightweights lit into each other from the 1st and never stopped.
They looked utterly exhausted and close to even on the cards going into the 12th, which made the knockdown all the more dramatic. A very wobbly and bloody Arboleda survived to the bell. He probably didn’t deserve the decision, but he got it. Both are welcome back on Showtime fight cards, that’s for sure.
(photo: Tugstsogt Nyambayar left, Gary Russell right; via)