ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey – Gary Russell Jr. doesn’t just want to fight twice in 2022.
The WBC featherweight champion claimed Thursday that it’s within reason to expect him to box three times during this calendar year. Russell’s ambitious statement is sure to evoke strong reactions from fans that often criticize boxing’s longest-reigning champion for not fighting more often.
Russell, 33, won his 126-pound title in March 2015, but he’ll make just the sixth defense of that WBC belt against Mark Magsayo on Saturday night. Almost seven years have passed since he stopped Mexico’s Jhonny Gonzalez in the fourth round to capture that championship.
The Washington, D.C., native hasn’t fought in nearly two years. He most recently defended his title in February 2020, when he easily out-boxed Mongolia’s Tugstsogt Nyambayar (12-2, 9 KOs) on his way to winning a unanimous decision at PPL Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Because he’ll battle Magsayo in the first month of this year, Russell is optimistic that he’ll be much more active in 2022 than in recent years.
“It’s very possible that you can see me three times in a year, as long as we have a willing opponent, someone that’s willing to actually compete,” Russell stated during a press conference Thursday at Music Room inside Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. “Like I say, I’m willing to move up and fluctuate my weight. I just refuse to relinquish or vacate my title to move up and stand in line. If I’m gonna move up in weight, let me move up and compete against another champion. That’s it. That’s all.”
Russell (31-1, 18 KOs), a 2008 U.S. Olympian, hasn’t boxed three times in a calendar year since 2014. He suffered his only professional loss that year – a 12-round, majority-decision defeat to eventual three-division champion Vasiliy Lomachenko (16-2, 11 KOs) in a June 2014 fight for the then-vacant WBO featherweight title.
The southpaw from Capitol Heights, Maryland, contends that his inactivity is in large part due to an inability to entice the type of opponents he wants to fight into the ring. The Philippines’ Magsayo (23-0, 16 KOs) is the mandatory challenger for Russell’s title, but if the favored Russell wins, he would be free to make an optional title defense next or move up in weight if the proper opportunity presents itself.
Regardless, he doesn’t want another long layoff after he fights Magsayo in the main event of a “Showtime Championship Boxing” tripleheader (9 p.m. ET).
“Man, God-willing, I don’t know,” Russell said in reference to fighting at least twice in 2022. “It’s always up to God, man. I think we got a good chance at it, though. We’re competing in the first month of the year, you know, so God-willing, we get through this match injury-free. Like I say, I got a slight injury right now. But no complaints, no whining, no bitching, no moaning. We get it from the mud anyway. We’re gonna give it our best and if we get through this fight, I think we should be able to swing back around come mid-summer. That’d be our second bout in this year. Then we should be able to finish the year out strong, too.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.