WBC featherweight champion “Mr.” Gary Russell Jr. comes from a boxing family. Trained by his father, Gary Russell Sr., alongside his three brothers (all also named Gary), Russell quickly proved a force to be reckoned with. In 2005, he became the first fighter to win the United States and Golden Gloves titles before the age of 17. He faced some adversity in having to leave the Beijing Olympics in 2008 after an unsuccessful weight cut, but since turning pro has rolled up a 27-1 record with 16 knockouts in his eight year professional boxing career.
The 28-year-old southpaw won the featherweight title in March of 2015, knocking out Jhonny Gonzalez in the fourth round to become the champ before successfully defending his belt 13 months later in April of 2016 with a second round knockout of Patrick Hyland.
Now, Russell Jr. gets set to defend his belt once again on May 20th when he takes on the Colombian-born Oscar “El Guerrero” Escandon live on SHOWTIME Sports from the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland.
The third time’s the charm for these two fighters after injuries, first to Russell in November 2015, then to Escandon in March of this year, pushed back the bout. With fight night a little over a week away, we caught up with the featherweight champ to get his thoughts on the upcoming fight and fighting near his hometown.
This fight was pushed back due to Oscar’s back injury, how have you been using the extra time to prepare for the fight?
Very productively. I never really worried about… I didn’t worry about the fact that the fight got pushed back or postponed. I tell people all the time that when you have two elite athletes, that are physically pushing themselves to the limit, injuries occur. It happens. Most camps are maybe six to eight weeks long. In this particular case, the camp was maybe 10 to 11 weeks. Whenever you have someone that has that much time to prepare for no one else but you, that’s a dangerous opponent regardless of what the situation is. But, it gave us the opportunity and the time to actually preserve our bodies, preserve our hands and actually give our bodies the chance to recuperate the way we wanted them to.
From that perspective, yes he’s had more time to prepare for you, but the same goes for you too. I imagine that’s been helpful in a way.
That’s right. Honestly though, we never really focus on too much of what our opponent does. We’re focused on what it is that we’re doing, what we’re going to do, that’s what it’s about. We’re 100 percent ready. I feel as though to be complete and to be whole as an individual, to be a great fighter, you have to be versatile. You have to have the ability to make the necessary adjustments no matter what your opponent brings from across the ring. We’re ready.
This fight is taking place at the MGM National Harbor in Maryland, and you’re from the DC area. What’s it going to be like to fight close to your hometown?
It’s going to be cool. We never really tend to magnify the event. When you magnify the event or focus on the accolades and stuff like that, you tend to take away from the focus of what really matters. However, I think that it is cool that, when the event occurs, that my next door neighbor, the mailman or mailwoman, the people that blew the horn when they saw me jogging in the neighborhood, will have the opportunity to be in the building when the event takes place.
A couple of other people close to you will be a part of the event, right? Two of your younger brothers are fighting that night as well.
Yes indeed, I’ve got two of them fighting on that night. Gary Antonio Russell, who’s 7-0, hopefully he will move to 8-0. And Gary Antuanne Russell, the 2016 Olympian, who will be having his professional debut on that particular day. Also, what a lot of people don’t know is, that’s actually my father’s (Gary Russell Sr.) birthday as well. It’s going to be an amazing event on a day that means the most to me. It’s the day that my father was placed on this planet and put in my life. It’s a tremendous day for me, regardless of whether boxing was occurring or not, and I’m just looking forward to being part of it.
Fair to say you and your brothers are looking to give your dad a little extra birthday present this year then?
Of course man, of course. That’s the end objective regardless of what the situation is, but, it is a little bit of added incentive because of my father’s birthday.
When you’ve watched your opponent for this fight, Oscar Escandon, what do you see from him? What does he bring to this fight?
He’s a warrior. He’s a gladiator. He’s a straight forward, rough, tough, very physical fighter. He’s going to bring the best that he can possibly bring on that night and it’s our job to be able to make the necessary adjustments and find the kinks in his armor. I feel as though we’re ready to do just that.
He does have a slight reach advantage on you, not much, but slight. How do you look to counteract that?
It doesn’t matter to me at all. Even though he has a reach advantage, I believe that my hand speed, my punching power, my ring generalship and my boxing IQ will ultimately be the reason that I’m going to leave the fight victorious.
As you get ready for next week, what do you say to the fight fans in terms of what they can expect from this bout next Saturday night?
Excitement… explosiveness… excitement. That’s what we’re going to bring to the ring.
Premier Boxing Champions’ quadruple header of matches headlined by Russell vs. Escandon airs Saturday night, May 20th, on Showtime live at 6 p.m. Eastern Time.