If you’re a fight fan, odds are you’re familiar with the in-ring accomplishments of 126-pound world champ Gary Russell Jr. But how much do you really know about Russell outside of the squared circle?
For instance, do you know which former boxing champion Gary Russell Jr. (27-1, 16 KOs) would love to have fought? Any idea what punch the Washington, D.C., native loves to throw more than any other? Do you know which Grammy Award-winning, smooth jazz saxophonist he admires?
You’ll learn those answers and more in our debut edition of “12 Rounds With …” a new weekly series in which we pepper fighters with rapid-fire questions—some related to the fight game, some related to life. The goal? To give fans a beyond-the-ring glimpse into the unique personalities of PBC pugilists, from rising stars to world champions.
Who was your boxing hero growing up?
I’ve never really idolized boxers [because] I’ve felt that we can learn from everyone, but if I had to pick anyone, probably Sugar Ray Robinson. I liked his style and how he fought with a different level of tenacity.
A lot of people didn’t know that he was actually a pretty good dancer as well. Sugar Ray Robinson’s name speaks for itself for the smooth manner in which he carried himself.
Who is the one fighter in history you wish you could have faced, and how do you think that fight would’ve played out?
I honestly would’ve liked to have fought Meldrick Taylor. He was the only fighter I know who could sit in the middle of the ring and hit a person with five-, six- or seven-punch combinations. Early in my career, that was definitely something that I was doing to fighters, and he’s someone that I love to mirror.
At the same weight class—say, 135 pounds—I would possess a little more punching power than he did. I definitely have him on speed. … I would have to use a lot of head feints to offset him and immediately fire off of those feints.
I think my boxing IQ would be the difference. Meldrick Taylor was a great fighter, but he was a great fighter because he was a great athlete, quicker with his hands and on his feet, and he had great eyes, so his response time was a lot quicker than other fighters.
Because that’s what he had, that was all he relied on. With my hand speed to match his, my IQ and the equalizing punching power, that would allow me to stop him later in the fight.
What’s the public’s biggest misconception about boxers?
That we’re ignorant.
Finish this sentence: If not for boxing, I would be …
… an entrepreneur and a businessman in some fashion around here in the Washington, D.C., area. I would still be running things behind the scenes somewhere.
“ I’m feeling like Rodney King right now, man—I just wish that everybody could get along. But I don’t think it’s possible. ” Gary Russell Jr.
What’s the hardest you’ve ever been hit in the ring?
It was an amateur fight. I believe it was in 2005, and I was competing in Moscow against someone from Belarus. And other than that fight, I’ve never really been hurt or rocked or buzzed.
I watched the guy during the competition, and every night when I would glance over at him, he was stopping everybody with an overhand right. He would rock, hurt or put down everyone with it.
Our fight was ugly, and the referee was on [my opponent’s] side, because he was throwing elbows and being dirty. I was still landing the cleaner, more effective punches, but he was rugged and I got to the point where I was frustrated. He pushed me, my back hit the ropes and my hands were open when he fired this overhand right. It landed on the top of my head; I instantly knew that I was hurt and the round ended.
My corner was calling me to return, but my feet weren’t all the way under me. I stood there for a second, walked to the corner, got my feet under me and didn’t sit down or listen to instructions. Then I went out and stopped the guy in the second round.
What is your favorite punch to throw?
My jab. It sets the tone for everything. If I can physically touch you whenever I want—if I can hit you with my jab at will—that means you’re in trouble, because [then] I can hit you with whatever punch I want to.
From the moment that I connect cleanly, you see the effect on the other guy’s face, like, “Oh, shit, that was really fast.” With my jab alone, I can mentally break a person down and destroy his psyche.
Excluding yourself, who’s the best pound-for-pound boxer in the game today?
I don’t think there is anyone who has the right to say they’re the No. 1 pound-for-pound [fighter], other than Floyd Mayweather Jr. I definitely consider him because he went out on top.
He fought Genaro Hernandez, Diego Corrales and Oscar De La Hoya, guys like that, so that’s why I would put him up there. But no one else right now.
Finish this sentence: People would be surprised to learn that …
… I don’t watch television, and I don’t really watch boxing. That’s what a lot of people do to pass time, but I use my time to do other things. Even though it’s entertaining, half of the stuff on television has no substance to it.
Who is the one artist or musician that fans would be surprised to find on your playlist?
Kenny G. … Kenny’s smooth. He puts it down.
What actor would you want to portray you in a Hollywood movie about your life?
Cuba Gooding Jr. In all of his movies, he transforms his characters and plays them very well. He would have the ability to act me out pretty well.
Whose skills would you rather possess, LeBron James or Stephen Curry?
LeBron James is big and agile yet does things that smaller players can do that other big guys like him cannot do. But who wouldn’t want to be able to score whenever they feel like it like Steph Curry? I probably have to give the edge to Steph.
Would you rather run over a linebacker or juke him out of his shoes?
Run him over, hands down. That’s a no-brainer. I want him to know what he’s dealing with.
Which wild animal best describes your personality?
It’s between a tiger and a bear—I would probably say the grizzly bear. The only reason I would maybe consider the tiger is that they do a lot of hunting by themselves, and I’m a unique boxer in a similar way.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
I’m feeling like Rodney King right now, man—I just wish that everybody could get along. But I don’t think it’s possible.
How will you know that you’ve lived a good life?
I want to die knowing that everyone in my immediate family—my nucleus—is 100 percent pleased with how I treated them, how I represented them and how I interacted with them throughout my life.