12 Rounds With … Gary Russell Jr.

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Featherweight world champion talks about the birth of his son, when he wants to return to the ring and which fellow 126-pound champion he plans to unify with first.

Featherweight world champion Gary Russell Jr. (center) poses with his younger brothers, Gary Antonio Russell (left) and Gary Antuanne Russell on May 20, 2017 at MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland. (Tom Casino / SHOWTIME)

The recent birth of his first son has inspired Gary Russell Jr. to climb back in the ring to defend his 126-pound world title for a third time. Russell’s father, Gary, named all seven of his sons Gary. And Russell is following in his footsteps and has named his son Gary Heru Russell.

There are a slew of potential opponents in the 126-pound division for Russell, who said he is hoping to return by February or March.

Russell scored a two-knockdown, seventh-round TKO over Oscar Escandon at MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland last May. It was the first time Escandon had been stopped and it happened on Russell’s father and trainer, Gary Sr.’s 58th birthday.

When would you like to defend your title?

I would like to be more active this year, maybe get back into the ring in late February or mid-March. That would be an optional defense to keep my tools sharp.

The thing is, when you have a title, you have to defend it once a year. I would like to be able to do that at least by May.

I would like to make that defense, compete and keep our skills sharp and give someone an opportunity to see if they can take it.

What statement did you make with your toe-to-toe stoppage of Escandon, and what’s your next move?

Escandon was a stronger puncher than anyone I had fought, but I wanted to display some of the many pieces of my arsenal. I could have kept him on the outside and boxed, but I caught a lot of his punches on my arms.

The WBC set a mandatory against Joseph Diaz, but I’m not sure if Jo Jo Diaz or [Diaz’s promoters] are willing to take the fight. Jo Jo Diaz is an up and coming boxer, and I think he’s an okay fighter. But I definitely do not believe that he has the abilities that it takes.

I don’t think he can stand to be in the squared circle with me. I actually feel that [Diaz’s promoter] may feel the same way and that it might not be the best career business move for them to try and make that happen. I don’t know if that fight is going to take place.

What about a unification bout, and, if so, is there a preferred order of the champions you’d like to fight?

I would love to unify—that’s a no brainer. I want to unify against any of the champions in the division, and it doesn’t matter what order. Abner Mares and Leo Santa Cruz are already going to fight each other, so what will probably happen is that I’ll get the opportunity to compete against the winner.

Both of those guys have titles, so after their fight, one of them will have two, and I’ll get the chance to compete against him and then I’ll have three. That would be a great night for the Russell team and the Russell family and the fans that genuinely love and support us.

For us, it’s just another day. It’s just like being in the gym where we work each other’s corners and train at the same time. We do this in our sleep. Featherweight World Champion Gary Russell Jr., on fighting alongside his younger brothers

What about Selby or Valdez?

We tried our best to make the Selby fight happen, but it just didn’t work out. The business side of it and political side of it sometimes gets in the way.

I want to beat all the champions—Santa Cruz or Mares, Selby or Oscar Valdez. I just want to make it all happen, and we’ll try to make the best choices to get it done.

Do you still have hopes of a rematch with Vasyl Lomachenko?

Listen, man [chuckles.] I don’t care if he moves up to 140 and competes. He could win or he could lose. I don’t care what the outcomes of his moves are.

But Lomachenko is a fight that needs to be made before I leave this sport, and I’ll do everything in my power to make that happen. 

How gratifying was it to defend your title on the same night where you worked your two brothers’ corners during their knockout victories?

It goes down to the individuals and how we are. For us, it’s just another day. It’s funny because a lot of times you’ll hear a coach tell a guy to rest and sit down before a fight, but for us on fight night, it’s just like being in the gym where we work each other’s corners and train at the same time. We do this in our sleep.

It’s nothing more than me working my brothers’ corners like we’re in the gym training and sparring. When I’m training, I’ll stop and maybe get halfway in on the bag, finish my rounds and then my brothers begin sparring. I’ll stop on the bag, go and critique my brothers and we get done what needs to be done.

Then, I’ll continue to do my work, afterward. I never understood that concept any other way because I’ve done some of my best work and my best sparring after I’ve been very, very active during the day. We never magnify the event at all, and we look at it as another day and another job that needs to get done. 

Tell us more about your newborn son and how he got his unique middle name? 

He’s six months old. His name is Gary Heru. His sisters are like watch dogs. They don’t let anyone get near him. If my nieces come over, they’re extra protective. It’s funny. I have several pictures of my kids, and in most of them, if my son is in his car seat or something one of my daughters is sitting directly beside him.

His middle name is Heru. When you hear the story of the birth of Jesus, and they talk about the Immaculate Conception, those were stories that were actually stolen off of temple walls in Egypt. The actual concept of it came off of the pyramid walls of Egypt.

They got that story, and the one about the Virgin Mary from the temple wall. Heru was the son of a king, and that was a story that was basically telling people that God is within us all. Within every birth, there is an Immaculate Conception, so I named my little man Heru.

Is it too early to determine whether or not he’s a southpaw like his father and uncles?

Not yet. My wife is and has been a teacher for several years, and I’m blessed because she knows how to evaluate our children and knows exactly what to look for and make perfect sense of it.

I’ll go and I’ll hand him things to see what he’ll do, and he seems to be ambidextrous as of now. Sometimes he’ll grab it with his left hand, sometimes, with his right hand. But it’s all good either way.

To see more on Mr. Gary Russell Jr., check out his fighter page.

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