Remember Gary Russell? Well he is taking on on undefeated Mark Magsayo.
It’s one of the first world title fights of 2022 and what a fantastic contest to kick the year off with!
WBC World featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr. (31-1, 18 KOs) is all set make a sixth defence of his green and gold belt against undefeated, mandatory challenger Mark Magsayo (23-0, 16KOs).
Presented by Premier Boxing Champions on Saturday, January 22, the championship contest takes place at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa Atlantic City, broadcast live on Showtime.
The 126lbs division has always been fiercely contested, with memorable battles such as when Manny Pacquaio and Juan Manuel Marquez fought for a first time to a thrilling draw in 2004, which kickstarted their famous rivalry, totalling to four fantastic fights.
Both boxers have the same mission but different goals – Magsayo is aiming to become only the second Filipino in history to be crowned WBC World featherweight champion, while Russell Jr. is chasing greatness by adding his name to a list of only five other WBC featherweight titleholders with six or more title defences.
Those on the list – in chronological order – feature Vicente Salvidar (7 defences); Danny Lopez (; Salvador Sanchez (9), who sadly died as the champion; Azumah Nelson (6); and Filipino Luisito Espinoza (7).
The defending champion from Maryland has boxing in his blood, trained by his father Gary Russell Sr., who is a self-educated trainer with five boxing sons, who all became amateur champions. The most well-known of these sons are all his namesakes – the star of this story Gary Russell Jr.; 19-0 Gary Antonio Russell; 14-0 Gary Antuanne Russell; and their half-brother Gary Antonio Jones, who amassed a pro record of 22-2 during 1996-2011.
The siblings were all encouraged by their dad to box right-handed, which has clearly turned out well for them all, and the numbers don’t lie – Gary ran his amateur record to 163-10 and won a World Championships bronze medal; he was even an Olympian (Beijing 200 until he lost consciousness just hours before his weigh-in due to dehydration.
From the Philippines, Magsayo was also an amateur champion, reportedly competing in over 200 bouts, so both boxers benefit from a quality education and extensive background in the sport.
Magsayo is trained by Hall of Famer Freddie Roach at his LA Wild Card gym and was recently awarded WBC Prospect of the Year 2021, which is an accolade that his next opponent won three versions of in 2011 – Ring Magazine, ESPN, Sports Illustrated.
The 26-year-old prospect is seven years Russell’s junior and has just come off a major win by defeating Mexican Julio Ceja in a WBC Eliminator on the undercard of Manny Pacquiao’s retirement fight against Yordenis Ugas. ‘Pollito’ came into the fight having just drawn with WBA World super-bantamweight titleholder Brandon Figueroa.
It took place at the T-Mobile Arena, so he is quite used to big occasions, but surprisingly found himself looking up from the canvas for the first time in his professional career, despite starting early and scoring the first knockdown in the fight.
It initially looked like it might be an early night after Ceja was downed in the very first round, but he gamely fought back slowing the younger man down with body blows to eventually floor him with a left uppercut in round five. Then, ‘Magnifico’ found his second wind and came on strong from the eighth round to completely KO the three-time world title contender in the 10th, with two rounds to go.
Young, confident, and ruthless, Magsayo has bulldozed his way to becoming the mandatory contender by beating everyone in his path and will take plenty of confidence having already defeated a former world champion – WBO World bantamweight titlist Panya Uthok (54-10, 36KOs) – as well as winning all five of his fights in America.
The prospect’s raw power can ice opponents out with one shot, so he is live and dangerous over the entire 12-rounds, which is a distance he has completed three times now.
He has devastating power and he fared well against the last southpaw he faced – Rigoberto Hermosillo (11-4-1, 8KOs). However, that’s not an entirely accurate measuring stick because the Mexican has lost his last four fights.
The defending champion is experienced and dominant, operating at the highest level for several years now, but he has been quite inactive during his reign. He fought three times in 2014, but since then he has only appeared once per year in world title fights. He didn’t compete at all last year, so comes into this contest with over 23 months of inactivity.
Since his one and only professional career defeat to Vasiliy Lomachenko (16-2, 11KOs) in June 2014, he has won seven in a row and six of those were world championships fights.
Against Loma, he was stunned and surprised in the early rounds, caught unawares almost, but came back strongly midway through the contest but was dominated again in the championships rounds. One judge ruled it a draw, but that was a clear mistake because he was outpunched convincingly.
But that was his first ever title fight, over seven years ago now when he was 24-0. He has since grown into a formidable world champion and his hand speed, sharpness, experience and ring generalship are of the highest quality.
He has knocked out four of his six opponents in world title fights and two of his title defences came against fighters who would go on to become world champions after defeat at his hands – ‘JoJo’ Diaz (IBF super-featherweight) and Kiko Martinez (IBF featherweight).
Despite his inactivity, the 33-year-old showed no signs of aging in his last fight with Tugstsogt Nyambayar (12-2, 9KOs) in February 2020, which he won unanimously.
He’s a volume-punching, sharp and speedy, counter-punching out-fighter with all the confidence of a dominant, long-reigning world champion. His jab is lightning-fast and his backhand is a dangerous weapon but it’s those hooks he throws in combinations that are the most damaging.
His forthcoming foe is young, confident, and powerful, but he does show signs of inexperience during fights. His last fight would have done him the world of good to have experienced all the different challenges of being knocked down and hurt, backed up and outboxed, but the way that he took the fight back into his own hands was mature and impressive. His fight-ending right cross was simply stunning. When he was behind and needed the knockout, he simply delivered.
Russell Jr. was 24-0 when he lost in his first world title fight, and now Magsayo is similarly placed at 23-0 heading into his first ever world title shot.
The champion has the experience of seven world title contests behind him and that knowledge is likely to be the biggest factor in this fight. Another element to consider is his inactivity, but that hasn’t gone against him so far. Magsayo’s biggest strength is his raw power, but Russell Jr. is hard to nail clean and couldn’t be stopped by Lomachenko or anyone else. The youngster his shown that he can adapt during fights to get the win.