Gary Russell Jr. vs. Mark Magsayo: Grace Under Pressure

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The young, hungry challenger in Magsayo seeks to overcome the savvy veteran champion in Russell in an explosive main event Saturday night on PBC on SHOWTIME.

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Gary Russell Jr. vs Mark Magsayo PREVIEW: January 22, 2022 | PBC on SHOWTIME

This Saturday, January 22, PBC on SHOWTIME (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT) returns as WBC Featherweight World Champion Gary Russell Jr. (31-1, 18 KOs) defends his title against mandatory challenger Mark Magsayo (23-0, 16 KOs) at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, N.J.

The bout tops a tripleheader which features a 12-round co-main event rematch between super lightweight contenders Subriel Matias and Petros Ananyan. Opening the show, Tugstsogt Nyambayar and Sakaria Lukas battle in a must-win featherweight contest.

The Story

The last thirteen months of Gary Russell Jr.’s life have been full of hard times and tragedy. In December 2020, he lost his 26-year-old brother Gary Darreke to a heart attack. Last month, Russell’s father and trainer, Gary Russell Sr., had his foot amputated due to an ongoing battle with diabetes. 

The long-reigning champ from Capitol Heights, Maryland, however, has remained steadfast in his resolve, grieving when he can and training himself when necessary, with his father lending a hand when possible, even if it’s via video chat. 

Add this rougher than rough patch to the difficulties he’s already had in finding worthy and willing opposition and Russell is a man with a lot weighing on him. He’s coming into Saturday’s title defense—the sixth of his nearly seven-year reign—intent on proving that, even with outside pressures, he can still perform at his usual elite level. 

Mark Magsayo came from humble beginnings in Pasig City, The Philippines, idolizing legendary Filipino fighter Manny Pacquiao and scrapping his way through a hard luck life. 

Starting his boxing journey at eight years old, he won four national titles in his home country before turning pro in 2013. 

In 2020, Magsayo signed with Pacquiao’s promotional company, MP Promotions, and began working with long-time Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach, who’s been polishing up some rough edges and turning the young fighter into a more complete boxer.

Recent performances have showed Roach’s influence as Magsayo has been all-around sharper and smarter in his efforts. In his last outing, on the Manny Pacquiao-Yordenis Ugas pay-per-view undercard, he came from behind to stop veteran former champion Julio Ceja via hellacious one-punch knockout in the tenth round. 

The Stakes

At stake is Russell’s WBC featherweight world title. 

Magsayo is looking to establish himself as the next great Filipino fighter on the world stage. Russell, meanwhile, is looking to keep his standing as a fighter rated among the very best in the sport.

The Matchup

Russell is undisputedly one of the most talented fighters in the sport today. Blessed with supreme hand speed and outstanding reflexes, he could cruise to victory against most opposition on raw talent, alone. The 2008 Olympian, however, reinforces his natural gifts with a high ring IQ, extreme focus, and stellar conditioning. 

Working off a jab that serves as a range-finder, the southpaw’s offense is built around a base of solid fundamentals. Everything he throws is sharp and delivered with impeccable balance.

On defense, Russell’s smart positioning and high-end reflexes keep opponents from being able to launch anything resembling a sustained offensive attack.

Magsayo is quick, explosive, and aggressive by nature. His high-octane ring presence, which sometimes sees him practically bouncing with raw energy, has drawn comparisons to a young Manny Pacquiao.

His best offensive weapon is probably a jarring right hand, although everything he throws is fast and hard.

Magsayo has good reflexes on defense and moves his upper body well. He can, however, still be touched and seems susceptible to left hands coming over a sometimes too-low right guard.

I want him to bring his best, so we’ll see whose best is best. WBC Featherweight World Champio - Gary Russell Jr.

The Words

Gary Russell Jr.

“I know Magsayo will be at his physical and mental best. I take my hat off to him, because he’s willing to put it on the line to prove he’s the best. I wish other fighters would take that same risk. Finally, we have another fighter with some heart who’s willing to fight. I want him to bring his best, so we’ll see whose best is best.”

Mark Magsayo

“I don’t think Gary has faced anyone since he became champion that has the skills that I have. I’m going to go in there to show him something he’s never seen before and we’ll see how he reacts. I respect Gary Russell Jr., he’s a great champion, but I’m winning this fight on January 22. I want to prove to the people everywhere that I’m the best featherweight in the world.”

The Breakdown

Russell has the edge in main stage experience and in overall skill. However, he’s also coming into Saturday’s fight with some heavy burdens. Dealing with the death of his brother, the illness of his father, and nearly two years of inactivity, nobody would hold it against him if his head wasn’t entirely in the game. He insists, however, that the pressure is not wearing on him and that he’ll be as focused and as prepared as always. 

If Russell comes into this fight at 100%, it’ll be hard to take the belt from him.

Magsayo, meanwhile, faces an uphill battle no matter what. He’s not going to finesse his way to a win, so he’ll have to outwork and overwhelm the defending champ. His hand speed and dogged tenacity will help him. He’ll also be aided by a four-inch reach advantage. The 26-year-old is definitely the type of fighter, though, who can shock an opponent rusty from inactivity or lacking in focus from outside-the-ring distractions. 

Expect Magsayo to press the action and flash that hand speed of his. His quick, accurate right hand will be key against the southpaw defending champ. Russell will do what he does: probe with the jab, establish distance, and score with quick shots while occasionally jumping inside for a flurry of offense. 

Russell has been untouchable for a reason. He’s that good. It’ll take a spectacular effort to beat him, even if he’s at less than 100%. Magsayo has the ability to do it, but he’ll need to show himself to be mature, unflappable, and more than just a ball of explosive energy. 

Saturday, we’ll see if the veteran champ can hold off the charge of a hungry top contender looking to start his own run of greatness.

For a closer look at Russell vs Magsayo, check out our fight night page. 

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