Gary Russell Jr. on recent adversity in, out of ring: ‘I use it all as fuel’

Gary Russell Jr. on recent adversity in, out of ring: ‘I use it all as fuel’

As boxing’s longest-reigning champion, Gary Russell Jr. has managed to make the most of his time in the ring. At 33, the WBC featherweight champion continues to hope to fight the best out there. Set to defend his title for the sixth time, Russell is ready to show he is still a superior fighter.

Russell will be fighting another mandatory challenger, Mark Magsayo, on Saturday, Jan. 22. It will be his first fight since 2020, a much different schedule compared to the usual yearly Russell campaign. There are a few reasons for the halt in activity.

Over the past few months, Russell has had to deal with his father having his left foot amputated due to complications from Type 2 diabetes. He is also dealing with a “slight injury” that could affect him. Russell is dedicating the fight to his father, who was able to attend the weigh-ins, and to his brother Gary “Boosa” Russell, who died of a heart attack in December 2020.

Russell is using all that has gone in his life on as motivation.

“I use it all as fuel,” Russell told Sporting News before his fight. “I like to fuel myself for progression. By any means necessary. We are the type of people that nothing came easy to us, so no complaints, no whining. I use all of the information and everything that goes on, I use it as fuel.”

MORE: Russell and brothers striving to triple-headline card as world champions

Russell made his pro debut in 2009, four years after earning a Golden Gloves championship and a bronze medal in the World Championships. Russell (31-1, 18 KOs) suffered his only loss in 2014 against Vasiliy Lomachenko. Since then he has won seven in a row, including a victory over Jhonny Gonzalez for the WBC featherweight title. In his last fight, he beat Tugstsogt Nyambayar via unanimous decision to retain the title.

The champion has been very vocal about who he wants to face. A while back, it was Leo Santa Cruz and Emanuel Navarrete. Russell has also shown interest in the champions at lightweight. The right fight is something he still craves.

“I still want these matchups that I’ve been asking for,” Russell said. “I can’t force these guys to get in the ring with me. All I can do is focus on the task at hand. I’ve prepared to the best of my ability in order to focus on whatever my opponent may bring. I would love to compete against these guys I’ve been asking for.”

In his way inside the ring at the Borgata in Atlantic City, N.J. will be Magsayo, a WBO international featherweight champion. Magsayo (23-0, 16 KOs) fought twice in 2021; the second bout was a win over Julio Ceja in August. Magsayo has the reach (68-64) and height (5-6 over 5-4) advantages over Russell.

A protege of Manny Pacquiao, Magsayo wants to shock the world. Russell is more than up to the challenge.

“None of it is unfamiliar territory to me,” Russell said of Magsayo’s advantages. “I don’t think that he is taking me lightly at all. I think Magsayo understands the type of individual that he’s getting in the ring with, and I believe he’s going to be competing to the best of his ability. He knows that he’s getting in there with an animal.”

If you are a fan of Russell, he encourages you to throw some punches in the air. They will not go in vain, he says, as he will catch and use them. For him, fight night is something that drives him, no matter what is going on. 

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