While it might take a little longer to fill the championship shoes of his older brother Gary Russell Jr., Antonio had no problem picking up a new skill with his hands—teaching himself sign language over the past month.
Among the six fighting Russell brothers—all southpaws named after their father and trainer, Gary Sr. — Antonio's the one who taught himself sign language over the past month, gently plaits his two daughters’ hair into salon-worthy braids, and most aggressively pursues knockouts with those same hands balled tightly into fists.
Nicknamed “Another” Russell, the slender 5-foot-6 Antonio is also the lone sibling competing on tonight's PBC on FS1 card (8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT) at The Armory in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in pursuit of his fifth straight stoppage against Nick Otieno (31-14, 13 KOs). Russell's fight is part of a special 90-minute prelims telecast that kicks off the show at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT.
But the 25-year-old Russell (11-0, 9 KOs) won’t be without his family: On hand with Gary Sr. will be WBC 126-pound champion Gary “Mr.” Russell Jr., undefeated 140-pound Gary Antuanne, and assistant trainer, Gary Allan III.
“Antuanne and Gary’s styles are similar, hitting guys with real sharp, real fast, five, six or seven-punch combinations. With me, I’m a no-nonsense fighter whose foot’s on the gas the entire fight. I wanna go in there, get the job done and get it over with,” said Antonio.
“The first round, I’m always looking to take my guys out. The quicker we take him out, the less damage we have to take, or possible damage that can happen – head butts, low blows, whatever. If he makes it through the first round, we’re gonna season him up, but the entire fight I’m looking for a shot or several shots that will end my opponent.”
Gary Sr., a former boxer, has noticed that difference since he began training his sons in the family’s basement. They now work out of the family-owned Enigma Boxing Gym in Capitol Heights.
“Gary and Antuanne will go on the prowl to hurt you, but with Antonio, there is a totally different mental aspect to his aggression,” Gary Sr. said. “Antonio is more the guy who can get you out of there with exceptional punching power in either of his hands. Plus, Antonio’s big for 118, so he can go to 122 or 126 and still be a nice size for that division and carry his power with him into the higher weights.”
The trio has twice fought on the same card within a 364-day span at the MGM Grand National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, most recently on May 19 the night before Gary Sr.’s 59th birthday. All three brothers registered impressive victories.
It was a repeat of a family affair of a year earlier on May 20 at the MGM Grand on Gary Sr.’s 58th birthday. Gary Sr., Gary Jr. and Allan worked the siblings’ corners.
“ Gary’s opened the door, creating an awesome legacy and some big shoes to fill, and Antuanne and I have the skills and abilities and embrace the opportunity to walk through it. ” Gary Antonio Russell, younger brother of Featherweight Champ Gary Russell Jr.
“I draw energy and motivation from my Dad and my brothers—all of which goes into the ring where you’re never just fighting me. Gary’s opened the door, creating an awesome legacy and some big shoes to fill, and Antuanne and I have the skills and abilities and embrace the opportunity to walk through it,” said Antonio, who considers Gary Jr. his boxing role model.
“So the only difference in being the only one fighting in Minnesota is that I can’t drive right back to my house after the fight. I also hear it’s pretty cold out there, so I’ll bundle up. Other than that, I’ll go out there, get the ‘W,’ and come back home. Once all three of us get title belts, we can bring them home and defend them at MGM. As far as making a name for myself, that’s something that will happen as long as I continue to beat up my opponents.”
Admittedly the most “anti-social” of the brothers, Antonio spent a recent afternoon training in the isolation of The Enigma facility. Sweating profusely following a session of repeatedly banging a sledgehammer against an oversized tire, he spoke of a heightened irritability and desire for solitude as the fight nears.
“I’ve been ready to fight since last week, staying to myself, even with my family, which I love,” Antonio said. “I like my circle to stay small, that way, you don’t have to worry about nothing creating cancer in your circle.”
Playing nearby amid the various boxing equipment and apparatus were Antonio’s daughters, Nylah-Love, 6, and Geniya, 4, their father having neatly and delicately queued their hair into rows.
Antonio’s also learned to use his hands in another way toward expanding his fan base.
“I’ve picked up sign language,” Antonio said. “It’s a different way to reach out to my fans who are hearing impaired. I’m self-taught for over a month, and I’m almost fluent in it.”
For proof, Antonio mimes, to a visitor, his assessment of his father’s career guidance as well as his view on his own progression toward joining “Mr. Russell” as a world champion.
“I’m happy with how my Dad’s helped me along the way,” Antonio said. “I’ll say in five or six more fights. I’ll be ready for a title shot against anybody. I really don’t know. But I hope it’s soon.”