At this point in boxing history, I hesitate to even acknowledge the existence of the alphabet-soup titles, unless it is to denigrate them as fraudulent. What matters are lineal titles. The only true world champions are the ones who beat the guy before them, or the ones who at least beat the other, obvious top fighters in the division.
But at their most credible, alphabet soup titles represent a claim. When there is no established champion in a weight class, at least some of the belt holders are like the various competing kings in Game of Thrones. They have yet to win the necessary battles to legitimize their crowns, but we can understand the loyalists who back them.
Gary Russell Jr. is one of those claimants. The WBC belt holder at featherweight is without question one of the top five fighters in his division. I can respect the opinion of a fan who asserts that Russel is the best.
Russell’s only career loss came against the fabulously talented Vasyl Lomachenko, in a competitive. fight. The version of the 126-pound title he holds boasts a respectable lineage. Russell claimed it by blasting Jhonny Gonzalez in three rounds in March 2015. Gonzalez took that belt by knocking out Abner Mares in August 2013, at a time when Mares was viewed by many as a top-10 pound-for-pound fighter.
This weekend Russell faces Oscar Escandon in his native Maryland. As exciting as Russell is as a talent, this is not exactly a compelling fight. A native of Columbia, Escandon has lost twice in his career already, to super bantamweight contender Moises Flores and by split decision to the totally obscure Nehomar Cermeno.
Escandon’s last fight was in March 2016, when he stopped Robinson Castellanos, who just stopped Yuri Gamboa. Escandon is a decent, second-tier contender. But he should be easy work for Russell.
An ideal fight for Russell would be against WBA belt holder Leo Santa Cruz. However, Cruz is now 1-1 against Carl Frampton, with both fights decided by majority decision. So we should expect a rubbermatch there before either man takes another fight.
Hopefully Russell will get the winner.