Gary Russell Jr. vs. Tugstsogt Nyambayar fight prediction, odds, start time, undercard, how to watch

Showtime

Despite four title defenses and a four-year reign as WBC featherweight champion, Gary Russell Jr. remains the enigma that boxing experts have yet to fully figure out. 

There's little question the lightning quick Russell (30-1, 18 KOs) is among the most talented boxers in the 126-pound division. But where exactly the southpaw from Washington, D.C., stands among the pound-for-pound best in the sport is still hampered by his steady inactivity and haphazard matchmaking. 

Russell, who brutalized slugger Jhonny Gonzalez to capture his title in 2015, fought just one time each in the ensuing four years. By focusing on mandatory opponents only, the 31-year-old has essentially done just enough maintain the status quo. 

If there has been any change in Russell, who has battled hand injuries throughout his pro career, the epiphany appeared to come last year when the confident fighter began to boldly declare his plan to fight the best in the world even if it meant moving as high as lightweight to do so. 

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Russell returns Saturday to face another mandatory test in 2012 Mongolian Olympic silver medalist Tugstsogt Nyambayar (11-0, 9 KOs) in the main event of a Premier Boxing Champions card from PPL Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET) and hopes it will be the launching pad to an uncharacteristically busy year. 

"If it were up to me, I'd be facing Leo Santa Cruz or Gervonta Davis, but this is what I have to face," Russell said. "I'm here to defend my title in style once again."

The biggest question facing Russell this time around is whether Nyambayar, who is nicknamed "King Tut," is not only a tougher test than the typical mandatory opponent but a very live underdog just the same. 

The 27-year-old Nyambayar, who fights out of Los Angeles, will compete for his first world title in just his 12th pro fight and combines a legitimate amateur pedigree with heavy hands and an aggressive style. 

"I think King Tug is a good fighter. He's more technically sound than a lot of other guys competing right now," Russell said. "I know he's a tough competitor and will try his best but we are game, we are hungry."

Nyambayar rose from obscurity in quick fashion to stop Oscar Escandon in 2018 before outpointing Claudio Marrero in a title eliminator in January 2019. One thing that has stood out on the build to Saturday's fight is just how confident "King Tug" appears to be heading in.

"I think that Gary Russell is a great champion. I have already seen what I need to see and I think I will get that belt," Nyambayar said. "He fights back well after waiting for the opponent to attack first and he has speed. I think that he is an all-around boxer but it does not matter. I am young and I have courage and everything. I have the skill set and everything. And I think I am not inferior to Gary Russell."

Russell, who stopped the rugged Escandon a year before Nyambayar did, endured his toughest title defense to date in 2018 when he got out to a fast start against Joseph Diaz Jr. before a rally from the current 130-pound titleholder led to a competitive second half. 

"I think I'm a better thinker, I'm a lot faster and I think that's what is going to take over to dictate and control the pace of this fight," Russell said. "No matter what style, how hard you punch, how fast you punch, how creative you think you are — I've got the answer to match."

Russell said he expects a "high-level chess match" against Nyambayar but remains confident that bigger fights will come as 2020 progresses. For Nyambayar, however, this represents the defining moment of his career. 

"I will do whatever it takes to win. I will have to win," Nyambayar said. "I just hope to become a great champion with legacy. Fans will see classic boxing."

After a visa issue delayed the original meeting, Guillermo Rigondeaux and Liborio Solis will finally square off in the co-main event for the WBA bantamweight title on Saturday night. Rigondeaux makes his return to the ring while moving down in weight from junior lightweight and super bantamweight in his last three fights. The 39-year-old failed in his challenge for the WBO title against Vasiliy Lomachenko in 2018 before scoring back-to-back wins in 2019.

Solis, meanwhile, has not fought since November 2017 when his fight with Jamie McDonnell was deemed a no contest after three rounds. Solis lost the first bout with McDonnell by unanimous decision.

Fight card, odds

FavoriteUnderdogWeightclass

Gary Russell Jr. (c) -500

Tugstsogt Nyambayar +350

WBC featherweight title

Guillermo Rigondeaux -600

Liborio Solis +425

WBA bantamweight title

Jaime Arboleda
Jayson Vélez
Super featherweights

Prediction

If there's anything Russell can learn from history, particularly his decision win over Diaz, it's that confidence can sometimes be a dangerous asset. Russell emptied the chamber early believing he was on the verge of a stoppage and quickly found himself in a bit of a firefight over the next few rounds as a result of the fatigue it caused. 

Avoiding exchanges, particularly against the ropes and corners, will be paramount for Russell given the danger Nyambayar brings as a puncher with enough technique to set dangerous traps. As will being smart about when to let his hands go with dazzling combinations. 

As long as Russell is able to get off first and use his elite hand and foot speed to dictate the tempo, there may not be another featherweight who can handle him. To get there, he'll need to control his urge for the spectacular and let a potential stoppage come to him rather than chase it. 

Given Russell's want to fight multiple times this year and attract the biggest names he can, he'll certainly be looking to make a statement. Nyambayar's best chance is to target his opponent's ego just as daringly as he will the body to slow him down to have a shot at pulling the upset. 

Pick: Russell via UD12

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Brian Campbell covers MMA, boxing and WWE. The Connecticut native joined CBS Sports in 2017 and has covered combat sports since 2010. He has written and hosted various podcasts and digital shows for ESPN... Full Bio

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