Gary Russell Jr. Defeats Joseph Diaz, Defends Featherweight Crown

Gary Russell Jr. successfully defended his WBC featherweight championship with a unanimous decision over Joseph "JoJo" Diaz Jr. at MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, on May 19. (Mike Greenhill)
Gary Russell Jr. successfully defended his WBC featherweight championship with a 12-round unanimous decision over Joseph "JoJo" Diaz Jr. at MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, on May 19. (Mike Greenhill)

Capitol Heights, Maryland’s own Gary Russell Jr. put on a show Saturday for the hometown crowd at MGM National Harbor Casino in Oxon Hill, successfully defending his WBC featherweight championship with a unanimous decision over a very game and very tough Joseph “JoJo” Diaz Jr.

Early in the bout, Russell used his hand and foot speed to his advantage, landing extremely quick flurries, but Diaz started to take control as Russell was seemingly slowed by a hand injury suffered in the third round.

As the 12-round bout reached the midway point, Russell’s output increased as he made adjustments with his positioning and Diaz could not use his right-hand body shot as effectively. Russell landed solid punches that gave the advantage back to him.

Diaz finished strongly in the 12th round, but it wasn’t enough. Dave Braslow scored the bout 115-113 while judges Dave Moretti and Nathan Palmer scored the contest 117-111.

Russell made the third successful defense of his title to improve to 29-1 with 17 KOs, while Diaz (26-1, 14 KOs) suffered the first loss of his professional career.

“I was disappointed in my performance because I wasn’t planning on going the distance,” Russell said. “I hurt my right hand in the second or third round, so we had to make the adjustments. He couldn’t get past my jab. When he got close, we made sure to smother him. Then we reset and got back on the stick.”

Diaz was very classy in defeat.

“The game plan was to break him down with the body shots and start attacking him more in the later rounds,” Diaz said. “But I started attacking him too late. I didn’t pick it up until the eighth or ninth round. Gary Russell Jr. is a tremendous fighter and he did a great job keeping me at bay.”

The night was a successful one for the entire Russell family. Younger brothers Antonio and Antuanne — with Gary Jr. working their corners — both notched knockout victories.

Antonio Russell, a super bantamweight, delivered a pummeling to Jonathan Lecona (17-20-4, 4 KOs) of Mexico City, Mexico, knocking him down in the first, fourth and fifth rounds before referee Bill Clancy halted the bout.

“I felt as though I showed some versatility but I could have made it an even easier fight from the inside and the outside,” said Russell (11-0, 9 KOs). “He didn’t have the skill that I have.”

Antuanne Russell (6-0, 6 KOs), fighting at junior welterweight, made short work of Wilmer Rodriguez (9-3, 7 KOs) of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, scoring a first-round TKO after two knockdowns.

“I have no scars or bruises,” Russell said. “It was quick and fast, so whatever my coach says, I’ll follow his lead. I followed his instructions tonight and executed.”

In other bouts on the card, Richmond, Va., super middleweight “The Chosen One” Immanuwel Aleem won by six-round stoppage over Juan de Angel of Barranquilla, Colombia in the co-feature attraction. Aleem landed good punches on de Angel in the bout. De Angel was to land shots occasionally but was never able to hurt Aleem. Eventually, de Angel stayed in his corner and did not come out for the seventh round. Aleem is now 18-1-1, 11 KOs. De Angel drops to 20-9-1, 18 KOs.

Clinton, Md., super featherweight Cobia “The Soldier” Breedy won by six-round unanimous decision over Christopher Martin of Chula Vista, Calif.. Breedy, a native of Bridgetown, Barbados, was impressive offensively as he kept Martin continually off balance with his aggressiveness. Breedy would win by shutout (60-54) across the board to raise his record to 11-0, four KOs. Martin is now 30-10-3, 10 KOs.

Alexandria, Va.’s Brandon “Bulldog” Quarles dropped down to super welterweight from middleweight and scored an impressive fifth-round TKO. Quarles stopped Fidel Monterrosa of Barranquilla, Colombia by wearing him down throughout the bout. Quarles landed solid shots until referee Dave Braslow stopped the bout at 2:01 of the fifth. Quarles is now 19-4-1, 10 KOs. Monterrosa dropped to 38-18-1, 10 KOs.

In the opening bout on the TGB Promotions/Golden Boy Promotions card, Rueben Simmons, a super middleweight from Lynchburg, Va., won his bout at the end of the first round. Simmons’s opponent Ayron Davis of Wytheville, Va., could not answer the bell for the second round. Simmons pummeled Davis during the latter stages of the round.

Simmons is now 3-0, one KO while Davis is 0-2.

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