Boxing preview: Reintroducing Gary Russell Jr. to boxing fans Saturday
SAN DIEGO, Calif., January 21, 2022 – I find it irritating when someone comes up to me at a social gathering (in the pre-COVID days) and says, “Hi, remember me?” Chances are good, I don’t, and you’ve started whatever conversation you want to have by putting me on the spot.
So, let me reintroduce you to boxing’s longest-reigning titleholder in boxing, the undeniably talented WBC Featherweight World Champion “Mister” Gary Russell Jr. of Citrus Heights, Maryland (31-1, 18 KOs). Russell returns to the ring just days shy of a two-year absence on Saturday, January 21, against mandatory challenger Mark Magsayo of the Philippines (23-0, 16 KOs) in Atlantic City on Showtime Boxing.
Since winning his title in 2015, Russell Jr. made a title defense precisely once a year through February 2020, when he scored a stoppage win over Tugstsogt Nyambayar. Since then, Russell Jr. has been out of the ring. The coronavirus pandemic affected many fighters, but most were back in action by 2021. Not Russell Jr. Boxing’s running joke has gotten on the fans’ last nerve.
The 33-year-old Russell Jr. hears the criticism, but it never seems to bother him or motivate him. “At the end of the day, I’m a gladiator, and I love what I do. I love showing the skillset that I bring to the sport of boxing,” said Russell. Asked whether he had concerns about ring rust all week, he brushed it off.
“There are no concerns about ring rust. I’m always in the gym. I haven’t taken two months off from training since I was about four or five. Boxing is not just what I do. It’s a lifestyle for me,” said Russell Jr.
Russell Jr. is part of a boxing family like the Garcias in California. It’s been a rough year for them. In December 2020, younger brother Gary “Boosa” Russell died of a heart attack. Father Gary Sr., who is the only trainer his son has ever had, has been ill due to Type 2 diabetes and had his foot amputated, leaving him unable to train Russell Jr. for the fight. This all comes after the murder of brother Devaun Drayton in 2004; his murder wasn’t arrested until 2017.
For this fight, Russell Jr. is training himself. On Saturday, both his brothers and fellow pros Gary Antuanne and Gary Antonio will be in the corner. Russell Jr. has been the trainer and cornerman for his brothers in their last two bouts.
“Camp has been hectic, man,” said Russell Jr. “It’s been a lot going on. You know, pops, he’s been dealing with amputation. He got his foot amputated. He’s my coach as well as my dad. But we grinding, man. We ready. No complaints, no whining. We gonna get to it.
“I tell people all the time that life is like boxing. You have to keep your chin down and hands up. I’m grateful that I’m mentally strong when it comes to stuff like this. This is what champions do. We overcome adversity.”
Initially, Russell Jr. was over the 126-pound weight limit on the scale Friday but made weight at 125.5 pounds on the second attempt.
Magsayo is trained by Freddie Roach and promoted under Manny Pacquiao’s banner. The 26-year-old earned the opportunity to fight for Russell Jr.’s title after a knockout of Julio Ceja on the Pacquiao vs. Ugas undercard. He isn’t relying on any Russell ring rust either.
“I think I’m the fighter who wants to beat him more than anyone else has. I’m here to give him his second loss on Saturday night. I can fight, and I can adjust. I have speed just like Gary does. On Saturday, we’ll put our skills up against each other,” said Magsayo. He says he learned a lot from the Ceja fight.
“I showed that I can adjust, that I can brawl and that I can box when I have to. That fight has helped me so much. It’s great to have Freddie Roach and Marvin Somodio helping me every day. I thought that I already knew boxing, but when I came to the gym, they corrected my mistakes and made me a much more accurate puncher.
“Filipinos are born strong, we are warriors. I’m going to bring that attitude and that mentality into the fight,” promised Magsayo.
Still, Russell Jr.’s confidence is unwavering. “If I go out there and I destroy Mark on Saturday, then the big fights that I want, those fighters won’t be in a rush to face me, not that they are now anyway. I’m always trying to give the same message when I enter the ring. I believe in intellect over athleticism, no matter the situation.”
Absence does not make the boxing fan’s heart grow fonder. Russell can’t put his title on ice for months at a time and still expect fans to be clamoring to see him in a big-money matchup when they barely remember him.
With all the strikes against him, Russell Jr. could appear vulnerable. But the oddsmakers don’t believe it, and even with the layoff and adversity, Russell Jr.’s skills, speed, and ring IQ will be too much for Magsayo. Expect a slow start, but this is nothing new for Russell Jr. Even a mediocre performance by Russell Jr. should get the job done on Saturday. Whether it gets Russell Jr. a fight with someone like Leo Santa Cruz, he won’t be the man bringing the eyes to the screen or the butts to the seats, and it’s shame.
Undercard: Matías vs Anayan, Nayambayar vs Lukas, Evan Holyfield
On the undercard, super lightweights Subriel Matías of Puerto Rico (17-1, 17 KOS) and Petros Ananyan of Russia (16-2-2, 7 KOs) meet for a rematch in the 12-round co-main event. In their first fight on the February 2020 Fury- Wilder II undercard, Ananyan knocked Matias down and won a 10-round decision considered an upset.
Russell Jr.’s last opponent, 2012 Olympic silver medalist Nyambayar (12-2, 9 KOs), takes on Sakaria Lukas of Namibia (25-1, 17 KOs) in the 10-round featherweight opening fight at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT. This week, Lukas took the fight as a last-minute substitute when original opponent Vic Pasillas was forced to withdraw after a positive COVID-19 test.
Also notable: unbeaten super welterweight Evan “Yung Holy” Holyfield of Houston (8-0, 6 KOs), son of heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, fights Chris Rollins of Virginia (5-3-1, 4 KOs) in a six-round fight. Unlike many promising young prospects, Holyfield is being allowed to develop his skills without the pressure of the spotlight.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal is an award-winning veteran boxing journalist. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on social media at @PRProSanDiego.
Please credit “Gayle Falkenthal for Communities Digital News” when quoting or linking to this story.
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