By: Hans Themistode
As is the case with most of the world, a daily alarm clock rings which signals the time to get up and get ready for work. Yet, in the case of current WBC featherweight titlist Gary Russell Jr., he’s only been forced to clock in for his shift once a year.
The now 32-year-old is normally loquacious when asked a question. However, he struggles to pinpoint exactly the last time he has stepped into the ring more than just once.
“I don’t remember man,” said Russell Jr. during a recent interview with Brian Custer on The Last Stand Podcast.
In just a few more days, the official answer to that question will be seven years. A figure that leaves fans of Russell Jr. apoplectic. The long stretches of inactivity have never quite made sense to several inside boxing circles. Rarely does the Maryland resident suffer any abrasions when he does compete, nor does he have any setbacks during his training camps.
Still, year after year, Russell Jr. (31-1, 18 KOs) saunters his way to the ring, puts on an eye-catching performance, and disappears into a cloud of smoke for another year, leaving fans wanting to see more. The fan’s desire to see the long-reigning belt holder in the ring more often is a feeling he shares as well. With that being said, his willingness to step into the ring on a more consistent basis simply isn’t something that he believes will be conducive to the sport.
“I think the reason why you only see me once a year is because a lot of these fighters, managers and promoters don’t feel as though it’s in their best interest to put their fighters in the ring with me and I refuse to water the sport down. I won’t water the sport down by fighting a complete bum or somebody that they know I’m going to beat up. I believe that the best should fight the best. These guys need good matchmakers, that’s the difference, I don’t but I would love to step into the ring more than once a year.”
Matchups against the likes of Leo Santa Cruz, Josh Warrington, Devin Haney and Gervonta Davis have been on the forefront of Russell Jr.’s mind. Despite consistently calling for those showdowns to be made, Russell Jr.’s request has yet to come true which has ultimately left him on the sidelines year after year.
While waiting for one of his more attractive bouts to materialize, Russell Jr. has only made the trek to the ring in order to face his mandated title challengers. To the fans, fighters such as Tugstsogt Nyambayar, Joseph Diaz and others, aren’t names that completely resonate with them. But to Russell Jr., he believes that if you simply took the time to check their track record, then you would notice that they were all worthy challengers.
“The mandatories are the next best guys after the champions,” explained Russell Jr. “The mandatories have to beat everybody in order to be the number one contender to challenge the champion for the title. Look at Jo Jo Diaz, he became a world champion by beating Tevin Farmer’s ass good. It was a whitewash when I fought him. I made it look easy. That’s no disrespect to Jo Jo but that just goes to show the talent and skillset that I’ve been going against.”
“King Tug was a helluva fighter. I would like to see a Leo Santa Cruz or one of these guys fight a King Tug. I think it would be an interesting fight. Actually, King Tug beat the guy who Shakur Stevenson lost to in the Olympics. Shakur lost to him in the Olympics and King Tut beat him in the pros. So that speaks volumes to the guys that I’m competing against. I rather face a mandatory challenger than face a regular Joe blow and knock somebody out. Who does that?”
For now, it’s unclear whether or not Russell Jr.’s wish to face one of the division’s top names will be granted or whether he will be forced to once again take on another mandatory challenger. Regardless of the opponent though, the Maryland native will undoubtedly step into the ring with an increased amount of rage and motivation.
Roughly two weeks ago, Russell Jr.’s younger brother, Gary Boosa Russell, passed away due to an unexpected heart attack. The loss of his younger brother has left him incredibly hurt, amongst other emotions. But while the pain was etched across his face, Russell Jr. took the time to warn whoever is the unlucky soul that will face him sometime in 2021.
“I’m so frustrated, hurt – I got so many different emotions going on and I got it all bottled up. Somebody gotta get this shit. Whoever my next opponent is it doesn’t matter.”