Russell sharp in 7th-round TKO of Escandon

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OXON HILL, Md. — Gary Russell Jr., in the first hometown fight of his career, gave his fans what they wanted — a dominant victory as he retained his featherweight world title.

Russell, who is from nearby Capitol Heights, Maryland, plowed through tough Oscar Escandon for a seventh-round knockout victory on Saturday night before 2,345 at the MGM National Harbor.

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Russell, making his second title defense, was never in danger against Escandon, the interim titleholder and mandatory challenger.

Russell’s victory capped what was essentially family night at the fights, as members of the “Gary Gang” all won. On the undercard, Russell’s younger brothers — bantamweight prospect Gary Antonio Russell (8-0, 6 KOs) and junior welterweight Gary Antuanne Russell (1-0, 1 KO), a 2016 U.S. Olympian making his pro debut — each won by easy knockout on their father and trainer Gary Russell Sr.’s birthday.

After the fight, the crowd serenaded Gary Russell Sr. by singing “Happy Birthday.”

“First and foremost, I got to say happy birthday to my father. Secondly, I’d like to tell all the fans that came to support me: I love you all. Thank you,” Russell said. “I fought a tough competitor. I knew Escandon wanted to come and bring his best. I knew he was going to come forward. I was ready for him. We are warriors.”

Russell Sr. was thrilled with the big night for his family.

“I’m ecstatic,” he said. “I’m really happy. I got three wins, three stoppages. It’s my birthday. I’m 15 minutes from home, and I can go home and relax.”

Russell Jr., a 28-year-old southpaw, was coming off a 13-month layoff since a second-round knockout of Patrick Hyland, but he looked very sharp despite the inactivity.

The fight with Escandon, 32, of Colombia, was delayed for various reasons and then finally scheduled to take place March 11, but it was postponed to Saturday because Escandon suffered a back injury in training.

The fight was a mismatch from the outset. Russell’s speed, power and skills were overwhelming, and he did as he pleased.

He easily won the first two rounds and then nearly ended it in the third round. He dropped Escandon with a brutal right uppercut and then banged Escandon around the ring at will as Russell’s hometown crowd stood and cheered wildly. Russell landed another blistering right hand that staggered Escandon and a left that sent him reeling toward the ropes. It was target practice, but Escandon showed enormous heart to make it out of the round. It was a such a punishing round that one judge scored it 10-7 even though there was only one knockdown.

Russell (28-1, 17 KOs), a 2008 U.S. Olympian, continued to dominate, and then in the seventh round he creamed Escandon (25-3, 17 KOs) with a hard right hand to the temple. Escandon took a couple of steps backward and then went down on a delayed reaction, and referee Harvey Dock waved off the fight at 59 seconds.

“I was getting my rhythm going, and I felt like Gary was getting tired,” Escandon said through a translator. “I didn’t see him coming with the big punch he threw at the end, and that was it. I went down and was hoping to get a 10-count, but the referee didn’t give it to me and he stopped the fight.”

At the time of the knockout, Russell led on all three scorecards — 60-52, 59-54 and 59-54.

Escandon was coming off a 14-month layoff since winning the vacant interim belt by seventh-round knockout of Robinson Castellanos in March 2016.

“We prepared fully for Mr. Escandon,” Russell Sr. said. “We knew he was going to do what he did — come forward. I don’t want to diminish or take anything away from Mr. Escandon. He really is a hard, rough fighter. Throughout the course of the fight, I instructed Gary to hit him with some good shots, some hard shots. It is a brutal sport.”

According to CompuBox punch statistics, Russell landed 198 of 508 shots (39 percent), and Escandon landed 110 of 558 (20 percent).

“I knew that Gary was going to go fast from the first to the fifth round, and it was part of my strategy to let him do that and get tired. It didn’t work, unfortunately,” Escandon said. “Now we need to go back to the drawing board to rest and see what my manager has planned for me.”

Russell won his fourth fight in a row since he lost a decision to Vasyl Lomachenko for a vacant featherweight world title in 2014. Russell went on to knock out Jhonny Gonzalez in the fourth round to win a title in 2015.

Russell badly wants a rematch with Lomachenko, who has since moved up in weight and won a junior lightweight belt.

“Lomachenko, that’s a no-brainer,” Russell said when asked whom he wants next. “I don’t want to do it for the fans or for the media. I want to do it for myself. And I want to do it twice. I’ll knock him out the first time, and then he’ll want me to fight him again.”

As much as Russell wants the rematch, it is not likely to happen. Lomachenko is probably going to meet Orlando Salido in a rematch later this summer and then move up in weight to lightweight.

If he can’t get that fight, Russell would like to unify titles against the other titleholders.

“I’d love to unify against all the other guys in the featherweight division,” he said. “I’d like Leo Santa Cruz, Lee Selby, Oscar Valdez.”

None are likely to be next, but fights with Santa Cruz and Selby would appear far more doable than Valdez. Santa Cruz and Selby are with adviser Al Haymon, who also represents Russell; whereas Valdez, like Lomachenko, is promoted by Top Rank, a longtime Haymon adversary.

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