Saturday night would be the defining moment of Gary Russell Jr’s career and shake up the featherweight division in the process. Before the fight No Sparring ranked Russell’s opponent Jhonny Gonzalez, the WBC champion, as the #2 rated boxer in the division. Gonzalez had earned the ranking after knocking out Abner Mares and successfully defending his title twice. It should be added that Abner Mares refused not only an immediate rematch, which was his right to have as it was a clause in the fight contract with Gonzalez, but also continuous attempts by the Gonzalez camp to make a second match with Mares happen. This gave the impression that Mares was ducking a clearly more dangerous Jhonny Gonzalez.
With the win Russell moves into the #3 spot in our ranking list, behind Vasyl Lomachenko and Nicholas Walters. Like Russell, Lamachenko wasn’t in the top 5 before Saturday night either. Lomachenko had lost in his second fight as a professional and to date has only fought in four total. To his credit, Lomachenko had an extensive boxing career in the amateurs that included gold medals in Beijing and London. Besides the limited professional experience, Lomachenko handled Russell Jr. quite handidly last summer. Because Russell Jr. KO’d by many observers seen as one of the top featherweights in the division in Gonzalez and Lomachenko beat the man who beat the man, he too gets a boost in the rankings.
Rounding out the top 5 on No Sparring’s list are Simpiwe Vetyeka at number 4 and IBF champion Evgeny Gradovich. Vetyeka was the WBA champion before the referee made an unusual headbutt decision after the fact in a matchup against Nonito Donaire. The call caused an early stoppage after only four rounds and controversially gave Donaire the title. Donaire would go on to get knocked out by Nicholas Walters.
Look for Russell Jr. to get matched up against Abner Mares this summer or early next fall. The fight would give Mares a chance to reclaim his title and give Russell Jr. an opportunity to solidify himself as a true threat in the division if Saturday’s performance didn’t already do that.