• Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Gary Russell Jr. to defend belt vs. Mark Magsayo after lengthy layoff, family tragedies

·Combat columnist
·5-min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

It’s been easy in the past to get frustrated, or even angry, with Gary Russell Jr.

The WBC featherweight champion has long been one of the most gifted boxers in the world, but it often seems he fights less frequently than a solar eclipse.

He’s set to defend his title on Saturday (9 p.m. ET, Showtime) against Filipino Mark Magsayo in the main event of a PBC card in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Typically, it’s his first bout since Feb. 8, 2020.

Russell, though, deserves some slack this time around. He’s dealt with adversity that no one, fighter or not, should have to handle. On Dec. 15, 2020, his younger brother, Gary “Boosa” Russell, died of a heart attack.

And then, his father, trainer and mentor, Gary Russell Sr., just had his foot amputated as a result of his diabetes, and though the family is going to try to make sure Senior is ringside, it’s no guarantee.

It’s a lot to handle, but adversity is no stranger to Gary Russell Jr. In 2004, his brother, Devaun Drayton, was murdered in Washington, D.C., and it took until 2017 until an arrest was made.

Russell is inspired by those tragedies. His father is struggling since the amputation, but is fighting hard to be able to be at his son’s championship bout.

“[He’s] not doing too good,” Russell Jr. said. “But that man’s a warrior. He is a true warrior. He had his foot amputated and he’s pushing. He’s supposed to be back in the hospital now, but he’s saying he’s not going to go in the hospital. He’s going to sit and wait until the conclusion of my match, and then he’s going to check himself back into the hospital.”

Russell Jr. has trained without his father, physically, at least, for most of his camp. Russell Sr. is the one who got all of his sons into boxing and has served as their trainer.

But his presence wasn’t completely missed. Russell Jr. had someone in the corner hold a phone while he sparred with his father on the other end, watching via video and making suggestions.

It’s been one way to get back to normalcy, hearing Senior bark out instructions and make suggestions. It’s easy in those moments to forget the worries and the concerns that the real world has thrust into Junior’s lap.

“It’s been a testing camp; it’s been trying, but no whining, no complaining,” Russell Jr. said. “ … It’s been challenging, man. It’s been challenging. But like I tell people all the time, 'Life is like boxing. You’ve got to keep your chin down and your hands up, because they’re going to throw punches at you from all angles. You have to be ready to fire when you’ve got an opening.'”

Gary Russell Jr (R) exchanges punches with Tugstsogt Nyambayar (L) at the PPL Center on February 8, 2020 in Allentown, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Gary Russell Jr. (R) exchanges punches with Tugstsogt Nyambayar (L) at the PPL Center on Feb. 8, 2020 in Allentown, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Russell admits his father saved a lot of lives of young men in the Washington, D.C., area, including those of him and his brothers, by introducing them to boxing where they had structure and discipline and something to work toward.

But the tragedies that he’s faced would have stopped many a lesser man. Russell’s philosophy is simple: Don’t let adversity beat you, or it will.

And so, every day he does what he can to overcome, to achieve, and to honor the memories of those he loved so much and lost, by trying to be better.

“I like to balance whatever adversity I have with forward progression,” Russell Jr. said. “If I’m having money problems, guess what: I’m going to take the money I do have and I’m going to invest it into something. If I’m irritated or frustrated with how things are going on at home, maybe me and my wife already got into it, guess what: I’m going to balance it with forward progression. I’m going to go to the gym. I’m going to go do some work.

“I tend to use [the adversity life presents] as fuel. I use it as fuel and it works out to my benefit.”

He’s been widely criticized for fighting so infrequently, but not surprisingly, that doesn’t bother him either. He fought three times in 2014, but then fought one time each year from 2015 through 2020 before taking all of last year off.

He put the blame on his inactivity on other boxers for not stepping up to his challenge.

Magsayo is his mandatory and became that with a thrilling comeback win over Julio Ceja in August. Russell was impressed, but noted that Magsayo had to make the comeback because he was hit so often and got behind.

If anyone has watched Russell’s career, it’s obvious that he’s rarely hit cleanly.

“I don’t have any concerns with Magsayo’s power,” he said. “You very seldom see me have to come back on the scorecards. Magsayo had to come back in his last fight because he was losing on the cards. That shows some holes in his armor.

“I never overlook anybody. Of course I want the Gervonta Davis fight. But I’m focused on Magsayo. He’s the one who worked his way into this position to fight me. Davis is in no rush, so I’m going to remain focused on a true warrior who’s getting into the ring with me.”

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting