ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey – Gary Russell Jr. expressed respect for Mark Magsayo as they sat side-by-side on a stage Thursday.
Russell repeatedly conveyed an appreciation for Magsayo’s willingness to fight him, something Russell condemned contemporaries like Leo Santa Cruz for failing to do. The longtime WBC featherweight champion commended Magsayo’s Filipino pride, too, and noted that he anticipates a difficult fight Saturday night at Borgata Event Center.
Magsayo still senses Russell has underestimated him while preparing for the 12-round main event of a “Showtime Championship Boxing” tripleheader (9 p.m. ET).
“He’s not expecting that I’m fast and have speed, too,” Magsayo told BoxingScene.com. “I’m not all power. That’s what he thinks about me. I’ll prove to him that I’m not slow or weak. I’m strong and fast, and that’s what I’m gonna prove when I face him. Gary Russell underestimates my ability. He thinks that I’m slow. It’s good to think that I’m slow, so that he can be surprised when I face him.”
The 33-year-old Russell remains a 3-1 favorite, according to Caesars Sportsbook, as their 126-pound championship match nears. The odds have dropped, however, in part because Russell acknowledged during an interview on “The DAZN Boxing Show” this week that he has a slight, undisclosed injury, hasn’t fought in nearly two years and acknowledged that he has effectually trained himself for the Magsayo match because his father and trainer, Gary Russell Sr., hasn’t been available because he had his left foot amputated last month due to complications from type 2 diabetes.
Those challenges notwithstanding, Magsayo admits that the smart, skillful Russell (31-1, 18 KOs) is unlike any opponent he has encountered in his first 23 professional fights.
“Gary Russell is a good fighter,” Magsayo said. “He has hand speed, footwork. That’s why when we train, every time I train in the gym with Coach Freddie [Roach], I practice footwork and speed, so I can counter the fast Gary Russell with speed-punching.”
Magsayo secured a shot at the WBC belt Russell has owned since March 2015 by viciously knocking out Julio Ceja in the 10th round August 21 in Las Vegas.
Mexico’s Ceja (32-5-1, 28 KOs) knocked Magsayo to the canvas during the fifth round. He led the determined Magsayo on all three scorecards – 87-82, 86-83 and 86-83 – when Magsayo landed back-to-back right hands that sent an unconscious Ceja crashing to the canvas in the 10th round on the Manny Pacquiao-Yordenis Ugas undercard at T-Mobile Arena.
Magsayo (23-0, 16 KOs), who is promoted by Pacquiao’s company, realizes Russell and Ceja represent entirely different types of challenges.
“Gary Russell, he’s different from the other fighters that I fight,” Magsayo said. “He’s a tactical fighter. He’s a skillful fighter. He’s different from Julio Ceja. Julio Ceja’s a brawler fighter. So, it’s a good to fight with Gary Russell because I want a challenge. I want to challenge an elite fighter.”
The 26-year-old Magsayo doesn’t expect to encounter a rusty Russell. Though the Washington, D.C., native has made only five title defenses in nearly seven years since he won it, Magsayo doesn’t believe boxing’s longest-reigning male champion’s lengthy layoffs have made dramatic impacts on Russell’s performances.
“He fights once a year,” Magsayo said. “He’s used to that. That’s his style. Me, I want to fight at least twice a year. Maybe he needs to fight like that. For five or six years, he fought only four guys or five guys.”
Magsayo is also convinced that he is much more equipped to upset Russell than the 2008 Olympian’s previous opponent. Russell out-classed Mongolia’s Tugstsogt Nyambayar (12-2, 9 KOs) and defeated his then-unbeaten mandatory challenger by unanimous decision in a 12-round bout that took place in February 2020 at PPL Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
“For that fight, [Nyambayar] was not too fast,” Magsayo said. “I’m a better fighter than Tug. I’m better than him, so I think Gary Russell, for me, he’s not easy. It’s gonna be a challenge for me to fight with him. But I’m different than Tug. He is just a brawler fighter. Me, I know how to box. I can adjust in the middle of the fight.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.