Leo Santa Cruz contends that it is Gary Russell Jr., not him, that has prevented their long-discussed featherweight showdown from happening.
Santa Cruz suspects that Russell wants to be paid too much money for fighting him. The four-division champion didn’t specify the purse he thinks Russell requested when Al Haymon discussed the fight with them in the past.
“I think maybe it’s money,” Santa Cruz told BoxingScene.com. “I don’t know if maybe Gary Russell wants to get paid too much or something. But in my side, you know, I don’t care. I’ll fight him no matter what. But once I tell [Haymon] to make the fight, I don’t know, it doesn’t get made. I think maybe, like I said, maybe money-wise, he wants to get paid too much or something.”
Russell-Santa Cruz remains perhaps the most meaningful fight within the featherweight division, despite Santa Cruz’s crushing six-round knockout loss to Gervonta Davis in October 2020. If Santa Cruz defeats Keenan Carbajal on February 5 in his first fight since Davis defeated him, the Rosemead, California, native insists that he’ll be ready to finally fight Russell later this year.
“I always wanted to fight him, ever since we fought in the amateurs,” Santa Cruz said in reference to an amateur match he lost. “That was a good fight. I feel I could beat him. And in the pros, now that we’re in the same weight, I’m willing to fight him. It’s just that the opportunity has been there, the fight hasn’t gotten made. But if it was up to me, like I say, I would fight him.”
Russell (31-1, 18 KOs), of Capitol Heights, Maryland, is 3-1 favorite to defeat the Philippines’ Mark Magsayo (23-0, 16 KOs), the mandatory challenger for his WBC featherweight title, on Saturday night in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The 33-year-old Russell, who will end almost a two-year layoff when he meets Magsayo, would love to face Santa Cruz next in what would be a 126-pound title unification fight.
Santa Cruz, 33, remains the WBA “super” featherweight champion, even though he hasn’t fought at the featherweight limit of 126 pounds in nearly three years.
Russell chastised Santa Cruz and other potential opponents for failing to fight him during a press conference Thursday at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, where the Russell-Magsayo match will take place.
“Stop acting like a sucker and get in the ring – point blank, period,” Russell said. “We’re gladiators. We’re fighters. Conduct yourself as such and be a fighter. Don’t pick and choose who you gonna fight against. Let’s fight. Just like Mark said, you know, he said he’s gonna show me what the Filipinos bring and what they mean. That’s honorable. That’s very honorable, you know, for you to wanna support not just yourself, but your people as a whole. That’s what you supposed to do.
“You know, I wish a Leo Santa Cruz would be willing to do something like that. You know, I’m pretty sure the Hispanic community would want Leo Santa Cruz to get into the ring and compete and fight. I mean, they probably don’t even care if he lose. They just wanna see him fight, show a sense of honor, show a sense of integrity.”
Showtime will televise the Russell-Magsayo match as the main event of a three-bout broadcast Saturday from Borgata Event Center (9 p.m. ET).
Santa Cruz (37-2-1, 19 KOs) and Phoenix’s Carbajal (23-2-1, 15 KOs) are set to square off in the 10-round co-feature of a FOX Sports Pay-Per-View show February 5 from Mandalay Bay’s Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas. Keith Thurman (29-1, 22 KOs, 1 NC), of Clearwater, Florida, and San Antonio’s Mario Barrios (26-1, 17 KOs) will meet in the main event, a 12-round welterweight bout.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.