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Gary Russell Jr. dominates Tugstsogt Nyambayar, retains WBC featherweight title

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ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Parlaying his trademark hand speed with a defensive posture that flustered his opponent until the later stages, Capitol Heights boxer Gary Russell Jr. retained his 126-pound championship by outclassing Tugstsogt Nyambayar on Saturday night at PPL Center.

In a 12-round unanimous decision, Russell won in his fifth consecutive title defense of the World Boxing Council featherweight belt he claimed in 2015, extending the longest active championship reign in the division.

Judges scored the main event of the Premier Boxing Champions card in favor of Russell, 118-110, 116-112 and 117-111.

There was minor drama during the championship rounds, with Nyambayar, his mandatory challenger, desperately trying to connect. Though he managed to do so at points, Russell (31-1, 18 knockouts) had done enough masterful work by then to all but assure a seventh straight triumph, perhaps moving him one step closer to a unification bout he so relishes.

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"It was definitely the kind of fight I expected," said Russell. "I knew I was fighting a tough competitor. He had everything to gain and nothing to lose. He brought his physical best, but I feel like my hand speed, my ring generalship, my boxing intellect ultimately won this fight."

The punching volume from both fighters began to spike in the middle rounds, with Russell particularly aggressive in the seventh. He landed several combinations fighting inside while protecting himself from counterpunches using both arms to absorb blows aimed at his head.

By the start of the fifth round, fans had began chanting "Ga-ry, Ga-ry, Ga-ry," but the action inside the ring didn't exactly match the boisterous crowd. The only drama unfolded when Russell lost his footing and dropped one knee, with referee Gary Rosato quickly and properly ruling a slip rather than a knockdown.

The first few rounds featured Russell keeping his Mongolian challenger at arm's length while measuring his opponent and landing only sparingly but with enough precision to remain in control. Russell's hand speed, among the quickest in the sport, had Nyambayar tentative in moving forward, rending his job virtually nonexistent.

That advantage allowed Russell to dictate terms whether in the center of the ring or stalking close to the ropes. Even when Nyambayar (11-1, nine KOs) appeared to have an opening, Russell's footwork got him out of harm's way without incurring much, if any, damage.

"He's a bit faster but has no power," Nyambayar said through an interpreter. "If he wants to fight again I will. I don't think Gary Russell wants to fight me again."

Russell fought for the first time in nine months and in the earliest month on the calendar — he typically fights in May — since his first bout in 2014, when he beat Jose Miguel Tamayo on Jan. 1, also marking the last time Russell fought multiple opponents in a calendar year.

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His relative inactivity since stems from not getting the marquee opponents befitting a champion of his stature because of the sport's politics, according to Russell and his team, despite having expressed elevated interest in facing other high profile fighters.

Russell instead has stuck to mandatory challengers to keep his belt, but that tactic may change, with the former Olympian indicating he would consider vacating his title to move up in weight and draw perhaps Leo Santa Cruz, Gervonta "Tank" Davis or a rematch with Vasiliy Lomachenko.

The only loss of Russell's career came against Lomachenko, on the short list of top pound-for-pound fighters in the world, in a majority decision when the two met June 21, 2014, in Carson, Calif.

Russell has been on a tear since the loss, winning four of his next six fights by knockout, while also taking time to help his father and trainer, Gary Sr., teach the sport to two younger brothers who are in the early stages of careers in prize fighting.

Saturday's undercard included the other fighting Russell brothers, Gary Antonio and Gary Antuanne, both remaining undefeated after easily winning their bouts with their oldest brother assisting Gary Sr. in the corner.

Gary Antuanne (13-0, 13 KOs) needed just 48 seconds in his super lightweight match, landing a right hook that dropped Jose Marrufo (12-10-2, one KO). The overmatched Mexican challenger was unable to pull himself up, his legs wobbling and giving out as he attempted to pull himself up along the ropes.

It was the third consecutive fight Gary Antuanne has won inside of two rounds.

Two fights earlier, Gary Antonio, 27, defeated Jesus Martinez via sixth-round disqualification of their scheduled eight-round bantamweight bout when referee Ricky Gonzalez intervened at 1:31.

Martinez, 39, already had been warned for delivering multiple low blows, with one early in the sixth requiring roughly 30 seconds of stoppage time for Gary Antonio (17-0, 12 KOs) to gather himself before emerging with renewed determination to end the fight with a knockout.

Martinez (27-11, 13 KOs) was all but helpless to defend himself and began clutching and refusing to break at the referee's behest, leading to the disqualification.