Gary Russell Jr. Photo by Tom Casino-SHOWTIME
Quick-fisted Gary Russell Jr. will put his WBC featherweight title on the line for the sixth time when he faces dangerous mandatory challenger Mark Magsayo at the Borgata Hotel Casino, Atlantic City, New Jersey on Saturday, Jan. 22.
In the process, Russell, who is unranked by The Ring at 126-pounds due to inactivity, will end a near two-year hiatus from the ring.
“I’m prepared to fight anybody who is willing to step in the ring, none of these guys who are supposed to be the best are willing to step in the ring with Gary Russell Jr., therefore I’m fighting my mandatory challenger,” Russell (31-1, 18 knockouts) told The Ring.
“The WBC made Rey Vargas my mandatory challenger, he was supposed to be my opponent. I don’t know how many times but that fight didn’t materialize. I can’t force these guys to get into the ring.”
The 33-year-old southpaw isn’t limiting himself to featherweights and is prepared to jump over the junior lightweight division, all the way to lightweight.
However, he’s not been able to find a suitable opponent and doubts any of the top fighters are willing to test their mettle against him.
“When Gervonta “Tank” Davis’ fight [with Rolando Romero] fell through, I told them I was willing to take the fight at a month’s notice, they decided not to fight me and they fought the other guy,” he said. “It’s not because of me, I’ve been willing to compete.
“Gervonta Davis, Devin Haney, Ryan Garcia, these guys aren’t going to fight someone is really going to challenge them. They’re going to handpick their opponents. They are going to pick someone that in most cases, when the fight is announced, everyone already knows who the winner is going to be.”
Russell, who won the WBC title by stopping Jhonny Gonzalez (TKO 4) in March 2015, feels fighters at 126-pounds have gone out of their way to avoid facing him.
“I’ve been the longest reigning champion in the sport of boxing, I haven’t had a unification,” he said “Eddie Hearn reached out to me before Josh Warrington lost [against Mauricio Lara], other than that no one was willing to step in the ring and compete against me.
“When Shakur Stevenson was in my weight division, he didn’t attempt to compete against me. Leo Santa Cruz hasn’t attempted to compete against me.
“This is why I’ve only been competing against my mandatory challengers. The next best guy to the champion. None of the champions in or around my division are in a rush to get in the ring with me. I can’t make these guys get in the ring with me.
“I did mention it to [Al Haymon], once again, all you can do it propose the fights to these guys and even with him proposing the fight, he can’t force these guys to get in the ring against me.”
The Washington D.C. native feels his ability is both a blessing and a curse.
“I find it a little frustrating but it’s flattering at the same token,” said the southpaw, who was a standout amateur, claiming bronze at the 2005 World Championships before winning a place on the U.S. team for the 2008 Olympics. “In most cases these guys aren’t in a rush to get in the ring with me because of the skill set and threat I bring into the ring.”
For now, Russell, who has had an interrupted camp in Maryland due to his father having his foot amputated due to complications from diabetes, is dialed in and ready to face Magsayo.
“Any fighter I step in the ring with is a danger to me,” he admitted. “Anyone who laces a pair of gloves is a threat, I think I avoid the danger by preparing myself to the best of my ability.
“[This is] a high-risk, low-reward type of fight. I think he’s going to bring his best; he’s going to be the best he can be. He’s one of Manny Pacquiao’s fighters. I firmly believe he has a good eye on what he considers talent. For him to sign this guy and put him on his roster speaks volumes on Mark Magsayo.
“He’s got a little pop with both hands but that doesn’t really matter in the sport of boxing, defense is discipline. Marquis of Queensberry (rules) mean ‘hit and don’t get hit.’ So, if he can’t hit me with anything it doesn’t really matter what his punching ability is. I don’t feel that what he brings to the table is going to be enough.”
Magsayo turned professional in 2013. The popular Filipino southpaw is blessed with handspeed and impressive power. He holds wins over Chris Avalos (TKO 6), Shota Hayashi (UD 12) and former world titleholder Pungluang Sor Singyu (UD 12). In his most recent outing the 26-year-old, who is trained by Freddie Roach, scored a stirring come-from-behind knockout of Julio Ceja (KO 10).
The Showtime event will also feature Subriel Matias facing Petros Ananyan in a rematch and Tugstogt Nyambayar vs. Vic Pasillas in featherweight action. The broadcast will begin at 9 p.m. ET/ 6 p.m. PT.
Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected] and you can follow him on Twitter @AnsonWainwright