By: Hans Themistode
The mind of Gary Russell Jr. continues to race.
The WBC featherweight titlist is still dealing with the mind-numbing pain of losing his younger brother, Gary “Boosa” Russell due to an unexpected heart attack in December of 2020. While he still grieves, Russell Jr. is attempting to find peace as he deals with the health woes of his father/trainer, Gary Russell Sr., who recently was forced to have his foot amputated due to a lengthy battle with diabetes.
In addition to the mental pain, Russell Jr. is also dealing with physical ailments. The Maryland resident is just hours away from ending a career-long layoff of 23 months in a mandated title challenge against the undefeated Mark Magsayo. While the WBC belt holder has admitted that injuries are a part of the game, this time around, he will be a bit more hampered than usual.
“I never go into any of my fights 100 percent, to be honest with you,” said Russell Jr. to BoxingScene.com recently. “I do have a little slight injury, but I prefer not to elaborate on it until after the fight.”
Although Russell Jr.’s seven-year title reign makes him the longest-reigning champion in the sport of boxing, his ring appearances have been few and far between. With only one annual appearance from 2015 to 2020, Russell Jr. failed to compete at all in 2021.
Due to his longer than expected time on the sidelines, Russell Jr. is now chomping at the bit to return, even if that means fighting when he shouldn’t.
“I haven’t competed in almost two years,” said Russell Jr. during an interview with Brian Custer on The Last Stand Podcast. “I was itching to get in the ring and fight. I genuinely love what I do. I’m a real competitor, I’m a real champion. I feel as though this is the thing that champions are supposed to do, not look for a way out.”
In Magsayo, Russell Jr. will attempt to derail the rough and rugged contender riding a 23 fight win streak, including back-to-back stoppages.
During the entire lead-up of the Maryland resident’s title defense, he’s been nothing but complimentary to the Filipino native. In addition to eagerly wanting to end his in-ring hiatus, Russell Jr. is confident that even a diminished version of himself will be far too much for his mandatory challenger.
“If you really are that skilled, then it should show. I believe in myself and I feel as though even with my injury, my skillset and what I bring, will be much more superior than my opponent.”
Russell Jr.’s self-assurance has been built over years of consistent work when the bright lights and cameras weren’t present. Throughout much of his career, the long-reigning champion believes he’s separated himself from the rest of the pack due to his otherworldly speed and sublime skills in the ring. However, due to his dominance, Russell Jr. is well aware that his supporters have grown accustomed to seeing him compete at a certain level.
Though Russell Jr. believes he’ll successfully defend his title for a fifth consecutive time, he suspects that his fans will notice right away that he isn’t 100%.
“During the fight, I’m sure the people will be able to see something. I’ll tell them after it’s all said and done but it’ll be after the W.”