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Russell defends but eyes Selby, Santa Cruz

© AFP/File | Gary Russell at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on August 16, 2016

WASHINGTON (AFP) - 

US southpaw Gary Russell defends his World Boxing Council featherweight crown Saturday against Colombia's Oscar Escandon but is looking at rival champions Lee Selby of Britain and Leo Santa Cruz.

Russell, 27-1 with 16 knockouts, enters the ring before a hometown crowd in suburban Washington after taking the title by stopping Mexico's Jhonny Gonzalez in 2015 and retaining it in April 2016 by stopping Mexico's Patrick Hyland.

But also on his mind is trying to unify titles against one of his major rival champions, such as Mexico's Santa Cruz, 33-1-1 with 18 knockouts, or Welshman Selby, 24-1 with nine knockouts and on a 20-fight win streak.

"I want a unification bout after this," Russell said. "I'm ready for any of the other world champions. We can line them all up in the same night if you want."

Otherwise, Russell said, he will jump from the 126-pound division to super featherweight.

"If I can't get those fights, I'm going to move up in weight and bully around these bigger guys," Russell said.

Goals set, Russell said he is totally focused upon taking care of Escandon first, especially with family and friends watching from ringside.

"When you get caught up in the hype, it's a deficiency in yourself. You have to be able to focus on the objective over everything else," Russell said. "I'm 100 percent physically and mentally ready for the challenge and I'm on top of everything I can be."

Escandon, 25-2 with 17 knockouts, had dropped two of four fights before knocking out Mexico's Robinson Castellanos in March of last year in his most recent start to earn his first world title chance at age 32.

"He's a tough fighter who comes forward," Russell said. "He's very physical and I expect him to be at his best. It's up to me to counteract what he does."

Escandon plans to spoil Russell's unification ideas.

"I'm taking this title back to Colombia," Escandon said. "This is going to elevate me and give me the platform to do anything in the sport. I'm very well prepared for this.

"In my last fight I was the underdog. People counted me out. Same thing applies here. I've done the work and I'm confident I'm going to win."

© 2017 AFP