Featherweight world titlist Gary Russell Jr. will once again come off of a year of inactivity to defend his belt.
Russell will face former junior featherweight world titlist Kiko Martinez on May 18 (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET) at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, Premier Boxing Champions announced on Friday.
The fight will serve as the co-feature to Deontay Wilder's defense of his heavyweight title against mandatory challenger Dominic Breazeale.
"I expect to send a message to everyone in or near my division that I'm a force to be reckoned with," Russell said. "I want to unify against Leo Santa Cruz and I'm going to do what I have to do to get there. I'm never going to take any opponent lightly, and right now it's my job to take care of Kiko Martinez before I worry about anything else.
"On May 18 you should expect to see excitement, punching power, hand speed, fast combinations and a great level of boxing IQ. I'm the best in boxing today, and I prove that every time I get in the ring.''
Russell (29-1, 17 KOs), 30, a southpaw from Capitol Heights, Maryland, will be defending his 126-pound belt for the fourth time, but he has been inactive a lot of the time. He won the belt in 2015 by knocking out Jhonny Gonzalez in the fourth round in Russell's only fight that year.
For the next three years Russell, whose only loss was by decision to Vasiliy Lomachenko for a vacant featherweight belt in 2014, also only boxed once in defenses against ordinary opposition: a second-round knockout of Patrick Hyland in 2016, a seventh-round knockout of mandatory challenger Oscar Escandon in 2017 and a unanimous decision against mandatory challenger Joseph Diaz Jr. in 2018.
Now Russell is back to fight on the same May weekend for the third year in a row and it remains to be seen if he will actually push to fight a second time this year against Santa Cruz, the fight Showtime has wanted to put together.
Martinez (39-8-2, 28 KOs), 33, of Spain, won a 122-pound world title in 2013 when he upset Jhonatan Romero by sixth-round knockout and made two defenses before losing the belt to Carl Frampton in their rematch.
Since that loss, Martinez also lost to other top opponents he faced -- Scott Quigg by second-round knockout in a junior featherweight title fight in 2015, Leo Santa Cruz by fifth-round knockout in a 2016 featherweight title, and Josh Warrington, who went on to win a featherweight title, by decision in 2017. Since the loss to Warrington, Martinez is 3-0-1 against lesser foes but will be a huge underdog against Russell.
"I've been waiting for this opportunity to win another world title and I'm thankful and excited for May 18," Martinez said. "Gary Russell Jr. is in for a rude awakening. I have a lot of experience and I feel great at featherweight. There will be nothing better than celebrating my 50th fight with a new world title."
In the opener of the tripleheader, junior welterweight Juan Heraldez (16-0, 10 KOs), 28, of Las Vegas, will take on former junior lightweight titleholder Argenis Mendez in a scheduled 10-round fight.
"I'm one of the best (junior welterweights) in the world and I'm going to show it again on May 18," Heraldez said. "They keep lining them up and I'll keep knocking them down. Mendez is good, veteran opposition, but I'm going to show I'm on a different level. This is a great opportunity to once again perform on a big stage and I'm going to take full advantage and steal the show."
Heraldez, a Mayweather Promotions prospect, will be taking on the best opponent of his career so far.
"Juan Heraldez will open the telecast looking to put on a show, as he continues to elevate his career to new heights," Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe said. "I'm confident that he will execute his game plan impressively and showcase his talent against a seasoned and tested Argenis Mendez, who has been in the ring with some of the top guys in the (140-pound) division.
Mendez (25-5-2, 12 KOs), 32, of the Dominican Republic, is coming off a 10-round split draw with Anthony Peterson on March 24. He is 2-0-1 in his past three fights since back-to-back losses at lightweight to world titlist Robert Easter Jr. and former title challenger Luke Campbell.
"This fight is do or die for me to become champion again," Mendez said. "Anthony Peterson ran from me in our fight in March, so if Heraldez does that on May 18, I will be better prepared. If he stands and fights with me, I feel strongly that I will dominate him and make a statement to everyone that I'm an elite 140-pound fighter."