It’s been difficult for Gary Russell Jr. to find even a willing opponent during a lengthy WBC featherweight title reign coming up on seven years.
That will never deter the supremely talented 33-year-old southpaw from pursuing a dream fight before he eventually calls it a career.
“I want a career-defining match,” Russell told BoxingScene.com and other media members during a recent Zoom press conference to discuss his upcoming title defense versus Philippines’ Mark Magsayo. “I want one of those career-defining fights. Someone who they say is supposed to be the best of the best.
“I made good money in the sport. I’m lying, I’ve made great money in the sport. I’m the longest reigning champion. I just want that one fight where people can say ‘Hands down, he’s the best fighter in the sport.’”
So far, Russell had to settle for being the best featherweight in the world, though even that remains up for debate. Few can match the skillset of the 2008 U.S. Olympian from Capitol Heights, Maryland, though many have him beat in activity. Russell (31-1, 18KOs) will enter his January 22 Showtime main event versus Magsayo (23-0, 16KOs) having not fought since February 2020. That fight—a twelve-round win over 2016 Olympic Silver medalist and then-unbeaten contender Tugstsogt Nyambayar—marked the sixth straight year that Russell was limited to just one fight, dating back to his March 2015 WBC featherweight title-winning fourth-round knockout of Jhonny Gonzalez.
The pandemic slowed down the sport, though crippling Russell’s career. There was a point when he was willing to vacate his featherweight belt in exchange for a guaranteed shot at the WBC junior lightweight title but could never get such a commitment. He has instead chosen to stick it out at the only weight at which has competed since turning pro in 2009, with no designs of abandoning those plans anytime soon.
“I’m at ’26 right now because I am the champion,” notes Russell, who attempts the sixth defense of his title in the Showtime main event from Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City. “It doesn’t make sense for me to move up in weight and fight for the contender spot. If I move up in weight, it’s to fight the champion.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox