Gary Russell Jr. stated more than once during a virtual press conference Tuesday that he is fully focused on fighting Mark Magsayo on January 22.
The Philippines’ Magsayo (23-0, 16 KOs) isn’t as skillful as Russell, the longest-reigning champion in men’s boxing. The mandatory challenger for Russell’s WBC featherweight title can punch, though, which will make him dangerous for the heavily favored Russell in a 12-round, 126-pound championship match Showtime will televise from Borgata Casino, Hotel & Spa in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Nevertheless, Russell has grander aspirations than making yet another mandated defense of the title he has owned since March 2015.
“If I could make two fights that I would want to happen,” Russell said, “I’d want Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis and I would want Lomachenko.”
Davis (26-0, 24 KOs) and Lomachenko (16-2, 11 KOs) both compete within the lightweight division, two weight classes above where Russell operates. Russell has said, however, that he would venture up to the 135-pound limit to get either of those two high-profile fights.
Ukraine’s Lomachenko remains the only pro opponent who has beaten Russell (31-1, 18 KOs), a southpaw from Capitol Heights, Maryland. Lomachenko – a three-weight world champion commonly considered one of the top 10 boxers, pound-for-pound, in the sport – defeated Russell by majority decision in their 12-round fight for the then-vacant WBO featherweight title in June 2014.
Russell, a 2008 Olympian, has long expressed interest in facing Lomachenko again. There still hasn’t been any legitimate movement toward putting together their rematch from Al Haymon, who runs the Premier Boxing Champions organization with which Russell is affiliated, or Bob Arum, Lomachenko’s promoter.
Neither Davis nor his team have conveyed any genuine interest in matching the three-division champion against Russell, either.
“I mean, to be honest with you, I never overlook anybody, you know,” Russell said in reference to his upcoming fight with Magsayo. “Of course I would want the [Davis] fight. You know, but as a man, I’m focusing on Mark. You know, Mark is the one that is willing to step into the ring and worked his way up the rankings to challenge me for my world title. Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis, he’s not in a rush. Or maybe Floyd Mayweather [Davis’ promoter], Leonard Ellerbe, none of them guys, are not in a rush of putting him in the ring with me. You know, I’d rather focus on a true warrior, a true gladiator, someone that’s willing to put it all on the line and bring their physical best. That’s Mark.”
Russell, 33, will make just the sixth defense of a title he won nearly seven years ago when he encounters Magsayo.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.