Russell set for family affair in 2nd featherweight defense

OXON HILL, Md. (AP) — As Gary Russell Jr. prepares to defend his WBC featherweight belt against Oscar Escandon on Saturday night, he refuses to be distracted by the surroundings at his first hometown pro fight.

Except for the nerves when his younger brothers fight on the undercard.

"I can't control what's going on in the ring," said Russell, who hopes to be in the corner with trainer and father Gary Russell Sr., when Gary Antuanne Russell and Gary Antonio Russell fight earlier bouts. "It's completely out of my hands at that point."

Russell will take the ring hours later at the MGM National Harbor, only 10 miles from his native Capitol Heights, before a highly partisan crowd at the 2,800-seat theater.

Still, he insists his second 126-pound title defense, and the main event of a Showtime Premier Boxing telecast, will be no different than recent fights in Los Angeles, Washington state, Las Vegas and Connecticut.

"We could have this fight outside in the parking lot, the end objective is still the same," Russell said. "I think it's cool that the nextdoor neighbor and the mailman and the mail lady and people that watch me and my brothers jog up and down the street ... have the possibility to be in the arena. But I never magnify that."

The southpaw Russell (27-1) will be a favorite against the orthodox Escandon (25-2), holding a 3-inch height advantage at 5-foot-4 and a more impressive resume.

"I think he's a tough fighter," the 28-year-old Russell said about Escandon. "He's definitely straight forward, very, very physical. I feel as though he's going to be the best he can possibly be on that night. It's going to be my job to counteract it."

Russell's only pro blemish came three years ago in a majority decision loss to Ukraine's Vasyl Lomachenko, considered among the world's best pound-for-pound fighters.

At 32, Escandon is fighting for a world title for the first time despite suffering losses in two of his last five fights, and a lower back injury that postponed this bout from early March.

But the Colombian believes he's improved with trainer Ruben Guerrero.

"I'm learning so much," Escandon said through an interpreter. "And you can look back at my previous fights that I had with other trainers, compared to now that I'm with professor Guerrero, and you will see a vast difference. "

Guerrero said Escandon must make Saturday into a slugfest similar to his last win, a seventh-round knockout of Robinson Castellanos more than a year ago.

"Once he feels his power, I know (Russell's) going to try to run and try to win by decision," Guerrero said. "We're going to be on his face, we're going to be on his jock, ready to go. We're going to push the fight."