By: Sean Crose
WBC featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr, 31-1, returned to the ring for the first time in almost a year Saturday night. His opponent? The undefeated 23-0 Mark Magsayo, who had fought his way to a shot at Russell Jr’s title. The fight, which was held at Atlantic City’s Borgata Hotel and Casino, was scheduled for 12 rounds.
The height advantage of Magsayo was evident from the opening bell. With that in mind, he landed well on the defending champion numerous times in the first. Russell Jr seemed to have trouble reaching his taller foe in the second. Surprisingly, Magsayo continued to land effectively in the third. Was an upset in the air, or would Russell Jr be able to make adjustments and figure his man out as the match wore on? Russell Jr looked as if he was injured in the fourth.
In between rounds, Russell Jr complained to the ring doctor of his shoulder, but insisted that “it’s okay.” Give the man huge amounts of credit for courage and gamesmanship (he had told the media earlier in the week that he had an injury). The defending champion proved to be a slippery target in the fifth. Magsayo went back to landing on Russell Jr in the sixth. With his right hand seemingly out of commission, the southpaw Russell relied on defensive acumen and his left in the seventh.
Russell Jr fenced to considerable effect with his left hand in the eighth. Magsayo appeared rather hesitant in the ninth. The tenth was close. Russell Jr was clearly the more skilled fighter of the two combatants – but he also wasn’t one hundred percent physically. What’s more, Magsayao had his moments where he was able to land well.
The eleventh saw Russell Jr engage in hit and run tactics while Magsayo continued to press the action. The Filipino fighter had his flashes, especially when he went to the defending champion’s body. For being essentially a one armed fighter, Russell Jr performed quite well in the twelfth and final round. The judges ultimately ruled in favor of Magsayo who walked out of the ring the new WBC featherweight champion.
“I believe I have a torn tendon in my right shoulder,” Russell Jr said after the decision was read. “This is what true champions do,” he added, referring to the fact that he fought with an injury. When asked if he wanted a rematch, the former titlist was quick with an answer.
“Hell, yeah,” he replied.
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