Gary Russell Jr. is content with the self-awareness that he is among the most talented boxers in the world today.
The hope is that his latest WBC featherweight title defense versus mandatory challenger Mark Magsayo (23-0, 16KOs) will serve as an industry-wide reminder of what he specifically brings to the ring.
“What I can say is, to the people who had the opportunity to watch me compete, in most cases they will say my skill set is special,” Russell noted during a recent Zoom media conference call when asked about his name being absent from pound-for-pound lists. “It’s second to none. As far as the pound-for-pound list, I don’t pay the pound for pound list any mind. The pound-for-pound list is a popularity contest. It’s based upon who is more popular. It’s not based upon skill. If it was based on skill, Gary Russell Jr. would already be on there.”
The bout will headline a January 22 Showtime tripleheader from Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City.
The easy argument against Russell (31-1, 18KOs) landing on anyone’s pound-for-pound list is the large gaps of inactivity in his career. The upcoming bout with Magsayo will mark just the sixth title defense for Russell who has held the WBC featherweight belt since March 2015.
The other side of the coin is that several wins have aged remarkably well for Russell, as has the lone loss of his career—a twelve-round defeat to Vasiliy Lomachenko, who went on to become among the sport’s top fighters following their June 2014 vacant WBO featherweight title fight. Two fighters who Russell defeated, Joseph ‘JoJo’ Diaz and Kiko Martinez both went on to win major titles after coming up short in efforts to dethrone the veteran southpaw.
Russell will return to the ring for the first time since the pandemic. His last fight came in February 2020, soundly outpointing Mongolia’s Tugstsogt Nyambayar—a 2012 Olympic Silver medalist who was unbeaten at the time of his failed title bid.
“My father told me a long time ago, no matter what you do you won’t be able to please everybody,” noted Russell, who was part of the 2008 U.S. Olympic boxing team which competed in Beijing. “Somebody always has something to say. All I can do is the best that I can do.
“I’m grateful I have a fellow competitor in Mark, who is willing to come forward and bring the best that he can.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox