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Avila Perspective, Chap. 170:  How Good is Gary Russell Jr. (?) and More

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  • Avila Perspective, Chap. 170:  How Good is Gary Russell Jr. (?) and More

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    By David A. Avila

    Gary Allen Russell Jr. has not lost a fight in eight years and holds a grip on the WBC featherweight title as tight as the mythical Thor holds the hammer Mjolnir. It’s comical how good he actually is.

    So why isn’t he more recognized?

    Russell (31-1, 18 KOs) defends the WBC featherweight title against Mark Magsayo (23-0, 16 KOs) on Saturday Jan. 22, at Borgata Hotel Casino in Atlantic City. Showtime will televise the card.

    “If I go out there and I destroy Mark on Saturday, then the big fights that I want, those fighters won’t be in a rush to face me, not that they are now anyway. I’m always trying to give the same message when I enter the ring. I believe in intellect over athleticism, no matter the situation,” said Russell.

    Prizefighting has always had spectacular talent that go largely unrecognized, especially in the lighter weight classes. Think Ricardo “Finito” Lopez or Willie Pep and you get the idea.

    Russell belongs with the Finitos and Peps of the world who dominated with a blend of technique and no-nonsense approach to the sport of boxing. He is a special breed of fighter that has a vast array of tools, but pure unadulterated power is not one of those tools of his trade.

    Hence, lack of recognition. Fans love fighters with crackling power who can end a fight with a single punch a la Mike Tyson or Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.

    Another missing ingredient: cheap talk.

    Russell doesn’t go on social media sites and claim to be the greatest of all-time or stalk other fighters on the Internet. Its just not his thing. He’s a fighter pure and simple. And he does it with a flourish.

    “Mark is actually willing to put it all on the line. He’s going to go out there and give it his best,” said Russell of his foe Magsayo. “A lot of other fighters want to hide from the best. But I know Mark wants this badly. It’s a pleasure to share the field of battle with him.”

    You don’t hear many other fighters talk like that about their foes.

    Among those he’s defeated are Jojo Diaz, Kiko Martinez, and Jhonny Gonzalez. His only loss was to Vasyl Lomachenko by majority decision. Losing to the Ukrainian fighter now fighting at lightweight was not an embarrassment. To Russell it was just a matter of opinion.

    Opinions on Russell vary. Some say a lack of fights have kept him out of the public eye. They have a point. It’s been eight years since the southpaw from Capitol Heights, Maryland fought more than once in a calendar year. He’s like winter solstice.

    Whether its lack of activity or lack of power the compact fighting style of Russell has been a puzzle that all others not named Lomachenko have been unable to solve. He’s learned over his extensive amateur and pro career how to minimize the danger and be effective with the least amount of punches. It’s worked so far.

    Filipino slugger Magsayo seeks to be the one who finally capsizes Russell’s unbeaten boat as the featherweight champion. His go-for-broke style could be the antidote needed to dethrone the champion. Five others have tried during the past five years and five have failed. Maybe it’s Magsayo’s turn.

    “It’s great to have Freddie Roach and Marvin Somodio helping me every day. I thought that I already knew boxing, but when I came to the gym they corrected my mistakes and made me a much more accurate puncher,” said Magsayo of his American trainers. “I can fight and I can adjust. I have speed just like Gary does. On Saturday, we’ll put our skills up against each other.”

    Its another chance to see Russell and for many a first opportunity to see Magsayo. Showtime will be featuring this fight and two others on Saturday.

    Boom, Boom

    Boxing’s Hall of Fame fighter Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini and veteran announcer Bob Alexander will be commentating on the Don King pay-per-view fight card slated for Saturday Jan. 29, at Warren, Ohio. The main event features WBA heavyweight titlist Trevor Bryan (21-0, 15 KOs) defending against Jonathan Guidry (17-0-2, 10 KOs).

    Boom Boom has a lengthy history of analyzing fights behind the microphone. He had an extraordinary career as a prizefighter. Most of you are too young to remember when Mancini engaged in several exciting battles with Bobby Chacon, Art Frias, Alexis Arguello, Livingstone Bramble, Hector Camacho and Jose Luis Ramirez. All were furious fights. That was Boom Boom’s style.

    If you want to read more about Mancini’s life story, check out Mark Kriegel’s book The Good Son: The Life of Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini. It’s a masterpiece by Kriegel who also wrote about Joe Namath and Pistol Pete Maravich. All excellent books by the author who now works as an analyst with ESPN for Top Rank shows.

    Fights to Watch

    Sat. Showtime 6 p.m. Gary Russell (31-1) vs Mark Magsayo (23-0); Subriel Matias (17-1) vs Petros Ananyan (16-2-2); Tug Nyambayar (12-2) vs Sakaria Lukas (25-1).

    Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel