Boxing
Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer 39d

Gary Russell Jr. stops Kiko Martinez, calls out Leo Santa Cruz

Boxing

NEW YORK -- Featherweight world titlist Gary Russell Jr. has been fighting just once a year since he won the belt in 2015, and he made his annual appearance on Saturday, battering former junior featherweight world titlist Kiko Martinez in a fifth-round knockout victory at Barclays Center.

Fighting in the co-feature of the Deontay Wilder-Dominic Breazeale heavyweight title bout, Russell took care of yet another opponent he was heavily favored to defeat, and he retained his 126-pound belt for the fourth time.

It was the third year in a row that Russell, who has said he is content to fight once a year, came out of hiding to fight on this weekend in May, and he looked like he hadn't missed a beat. Russell was sharp as he showed off his tremendous hand speed, power and precision punching in another lopsided victory.

Russell (30-1, 18 KOs), 30, a southpaw from Capitol Heights, Maryland, started fast and never let up. Martinez (39-9-2, 28 KOs), 33, of Spain, simply had no answers for the much better Russell, who landed many eye-catching punches.

By the fifth round, Martinez's face was a bloody mess thanks to a cut over his left eye. Late in the round, referee Ricky Gonzalez called timeout to have the cut examined by the ringside doctor, who recommended that the fight be stopped, so Gonzalez waved it off at 2 minutes, 52 seconds.

"I did pretty well," Russell said. "We stayed behind the jab, and he couldn't get past it. We knew that intellect over athleticism would get it done."

Russell, whose only loss came by decision to Vasiliy Lomachenko for a vacant featherweight belt in 2014, said he wants to finally make the fight so many have asked for: a title unification bout with Leo Santa Cruz (36-1-1, 19 KOs). Russell has said that before, however, and then went another year without fighting, only to come back against an ordinary opponent.

"We want Leo Santa Cruz. We want to make this fight happen," Russell said. "The fire is all the way hot on this side of the field. You will get burned. I would love for that fight to happen this year. Let's make it happen."

Russell also said if he could not get that fight, he would consider moving up to junior lightweight for a fight with titleholder Gervonta "Tank" Davis (21-0, 20 KOs), which would be a big regional rivalry fight with Russell representing the Washington, D.C., region and Davis coming from Baltimore.

Martinez did not complain about the stoppage.

"It was a good stoppage for a very tough fight," he said. "I'm definitely a visual fighter, so the cut made it tough. Gary was in great physical condition, and it was a very hard fight. I'm going to rest a little bit now, but I'll be back. I thought I had some good moments. I think I'll drop back down to 122 pounds to win another world title there."


Heraldez and Mendez draw

Junior welterweight Juan Heraldez, taking a big step up in competition, fought to a majority draw with former junior lightweight world titleholder Argenis Mendez. One judge had it 97-93 for Heraldez, but the other two judges had it 95-95 in a fight that appeared close all the way.

Heraldez (16-0-1, 10 KOs), 28, of Las Vegas, and Mendez (25-5-3, 12 KOs), 32, of the Dominican Republic, fought mostly on even terms round after round.

"I thought I won a close decision. I didn't think it was a draw," Heraldez said. "He didn't do anything that hurt me at any point. I could have gotten started a little earlier. I could have boxed him and thrown more punches in the early rounds."

Said Mendez: "I thought I won the fight. He didn't do anything to me. How did he win the fight? My speed and my power made it difficult for him. I thought my counterpunching was really good."

Heraldez landed a series of clean punches early in the fifth round as the action picked up a bit. Mendez responded with a right hand that connected and drew cheers from the crowd.

They also traded hard shots in the eighth round, but there long stretches in which neither guy did much of anything. Mendez made a late charge, including landing a few heavy shots in the final round, to drive Heraldez into the ropes, but it was too little, too late to pull off the win.

The draw was Mendez's second in a row after he fought to a split draw with Anthony Peterson on March 24.


More undercard results

  • Heavyweight Robert Alfonso (18-0-1, 8 KOs), 32, a 2008 Cuban Olympian, fought to a spirited split draw with Iago Kiladze (26-4-1, 18 KOs), 33, a native of the Republic of Georgia fighting out of Los Angeles. Alfonso, who was one of Wilder's main sparring partners, was the heavy favorite and had his moments, but so did Kiladze in a fight scored 77-75 for Alfonso, 77-75 Kiladze and 76-76. They exchanged many clean punches, but this time, Kiladze stood up to them after having lost his three previous fights by knockout to contenders Adam Kownacki, Michael Hunter and Joe Joyce inside six rounds.

  • Junior welterweight Gary Antuanne Russell (9-0, 9 KOs), 22, a southpaw from Capitol Heights, Maryland, battered Marcos Mojica (16-4-2, 12 KOs), 34, of Nicaragua, in a fourth-round knockout victory. Russell, a 2016 U.S. Olympian and one of the three fighting Russell brothers on the card, did as he pleased. He scored two knockdowns in the fourth round, and referee Michael Ortega counted Mojica out after the second knockdown at 2 minutes, 13 seconds.

  • Junior welterweight Richardson Hitchins (9-0, 5 KOs), 21, a Brooklyn resident who represented Haiti at the 2016 Olympics, stopped Alejandro Munera (4-2-3, 4 KOs), 29, who was fighting outside of his native Colombia for the first time, at the end of the third round of a one-sided fight. Hitchins nearly knocked him out in the first round and dropped him in the third round before the fight was waved off in Munera's corner after the third.

  • Bantamweight Dylan Price (8-0, 6 KOs), 20, of Sicklerville, New Jersey, outclassed Manuel Salvador Manzo (4-7-2, 2 KOs), 29, of Mexico, until referee Ortega stopped the fight at 1 minute, 34 seconds of the fifth round as Price was unloading on him.

  • Bantamweight Gary Antonio Russell (14-0, 11 KOs), 26, of Capitol Heights, Maryland, one of the three Russell brothers to fight on the card, easily defeated Saul Eduardo Hernandez (13-13-1, 8 KOs), 23, of Mexico, by sixth-round technical decision. Russell won by scores of 60-54, 60-54 and 59-55 in a fight that ended at 2 minutes, 38 seconds and was sent to the scorecards because Hernandez was unable to continue after a hard accidental head-butt in their scheduled eight-round fight.

  • Junior welterweight Kenny Robles (6-1, 3 KOs), 28, of Staten Island, New York, stopped Roy McGill (6-3, 3 KOs), 30, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, at 1 minute, 43 seconds of the fifth round in their scheduled six-round fight. McGill lost his second in a row by knockout.

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