Photos by Tom Casino for SHOWTIME
by Gautham Nagesh
Boxing is not fighting, it’s the Sweet Science, as any of the crotchety old men that inhabit boxing gyms will tell you. Fans of stylish pugilists were in for a treat on Saturday night, as Cuban Richar Abril (above right) and D.C. native Gary Russell Jr. (below) put on virtuoso performances during a special edition of Showtime Boxing at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas.
Russell Jr. showed once again why he’s considered the most talented young fighter in the world by many, dominating Vyacheslav Gusev over ten rounds despite fighting one-handed for more than half the fight. Abril was even more impressive, overcoming a rough-and-tumble assault from Sharif Bogere to hand the Ugandan his first loss. Bogere brought every weapon in his arsenal, most notably his cranium, which caused two nasty cuts on the brow of the Cuban. But Abril recovered his composure and gained control in the final rounds to win a clear unanimous decision.
“I was hoping for and expected a much cleaner fight,” Abril said. “It’s hard to show your skills in a fight against a dirty fighter. I kept getting warned for holding, but I really didn’t feel like I was holding. He was shorter and kept coming in head-first.”
Abril has been on the wrong end of some questionable decisions in the past, so he probably wasn’t comfortable until announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. read the scores in his favor. There were some rough patches early, as Bogere’s hard-charging style created problems for the lanky stylist. But Abril is too smooth a boxer to let a couple cuts from head-butts derail his focus. After referee Russell Mora deducted a point from Abril for holding in the 8th, he began finding his distance from long-range. Abril began landing clean straight right hands, and Bogere’s plunges forward became increasingly infrequent.
Bogere mounted an assault in the final round, but it was too little, too late. The Ugandan’s effort can be faulted; while his style isn’t pretty, it is effective. Abril has bested the likes of Brandon Rios, and arguably had more troubled with Bogere. The Ugandan’s head might have been his best weapon, and he used it repeatedly. Only a point deduction in the 12th finally slowed Bogere’s Tim Bradley tactics. If only his ring approach were as entertaining as his entrance (being carried to the ring in a cage, wearing a lion’s pelt).
“This is very, very disappointing. My dream was to win the world title. I’m not happy now and I’m pretty down, but I know I’ll come back,” Bogere said. “You haven’t heard the last of ‘The Lion’.”
Abril deserves to be mentioned among the class of the lightweight division; he has never been clearly beaten, and has a resume that will stand next to anyone at 135. After the fight he pronounced himself ready for the true test: Adrien Broner, who was conveniently seated at ringside. Broner probably wins that fight, but Abril is the only lightweight nearly on his level, skill-wise. How well Broner handles Abril would be a great test of his progress, and an indication of how he stacks up to the likes of Rios at 140.
Russell Jr. had an easier time in the TV opener, and looked on his way to a quick night against the severely overmatched Gusev. No prospect in the world appears to have the complete package quite like Russell, who blends perfect technique and patience with the fastest hands in the sport. The only criticisms to make are his sometimes-brittle hands and his subpar competition, both of which were on display Saturday night.
Gusev was decent, but not good enough to pose any real threat. Russell Jr. blinded him early with a jab, before figuring Gusev out and looking for a counter. Gary’s jab is one of the best I’ve ever seen, delivered as if out of a textbook with power and incredible speed. He began following that southpaw jab with a right hand, then mixing in lead uppercuts and hooks to boot. Russell’s advantage in speed allows him to pull off combinations that normal fighters shouldn’t attempt, such as the pinpoint lead right uppercuts he landed with regularity to Gusev’s chin.
Gusev tried at times to mount an attack, but was simply to slow to catch his opponent. He landed a couple shots in the third, only to have Russell smack him with a short counter-right hook in response. Gusev’s glove touched the mat, scoring the only knockdown of the fight. He was hurt several other times, but an injury to Russell’s left hand in the 4th probably saved him from an early stoppage.
From the 4th on, Russell dominated the fight with only his lead right hand. He did not throw the left at all for several rounds, and waved it at his supporters as if to explain the injury. A glove change in the later rounds didn’t help, though it appeared to clue Gusev in to his opponent’s predicament. The Russian tried to take advantage in the final two rounds, so Russell gritted his teeth and threw the injured left, albeit without much snap. Afterward he insisted the injury wasn’t severe and he would recover soon.
“My right hand is bruised too, but I don’t think it is anything serious. I fully expect to fight again in three months,” Russell said.
Russell once again called out Juan Manuel Lopez, a good choice for a fighter that badly needs a step up in competition. With his faulty defense and questionable chin, Lopez is likely on the slide, and could be exposed quickly by a killer like Russell Jr. If Lopez wisely demurs, newly-anointed IBF titlist Evgeny Gradovich could present Russell with a chance to win an meaningless alphabet belt, as seems to be his desire. That fight would at least be meaningful, making it a welcome change for the DMV phenom.
The undercard bouts on SHOWTIME EXTREME featured two D.C. fighters on the opposite ends of their careers. Unbeaten light heavyweight Thomas “Top Dog” Williams (13-0, 10 KO’s), of Fort Washington, Md., registered a third-round TKO over Kevin Engel (20-8, 16 KO’s), of St. Louis, while unbeaten lightweight Jeffrey Fontanez (11-0, 9 KO’s) of Caguas, P.R., took a six-round unanimous decision over Daniel Attah (27-14-1, 10 KO’s), of Washington, D.C.
In addition, middleweight Jorge Melendez (above, below) (26-2-1, 25 KO’s), of Manati, P.R., knocked out Ryan Davis (24-10-3), of Granite City, Ill., in the fourth round.
In non-televised results, undefeated super middleweight Luis Arias (4-0, 3 KO’s), of Las Vegas, stopped Arsenio Terrazas (9-4, 8 KO’s), of Mexicali, Mex., in the first round and unbeaten welterweight Sammy Vasquez (7-0, 5 KO’s), of Monessen, Pa., scored a second-round TKO over Leandro Albornoz (15-2-1, 5 KO’s), of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.