Gary Russell Jr. will end the longest layoff of his career January 22. has learned that Russell will make a mandated defense of his WBC featherweight title against Mark Magsayo that night in a “Showtime Championship Boxing” main event. The site for their 12-round, 126-pound championship bout hadn’t been determined as of Tuesday afternoon.

The 33-year-old Russell is boxing’s longest-reigning champion, yet the talented southpaw has drawn considerable criticism over the past several years for fighting infrequently. The 2008 U.S. Olympian has defended his WBC belt just five times since he stopped Mexico’s Jhonny Gonzalez in the fourth round to win it in March 2015.

Russell (31-1, 18 KOs), a Capitol Heights, Maryland, resident raised in Washington, D.C., hasn’t boxed since he defeated Mongolia’s Tugstsogt Nyambayar by unanimous decision in their 12-round fight in February 2020 at PPL Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Nyambayar (12-2, 9 KOs), who was undefeated when he challenged Russell, was the mandatory challenger for Russell’s title.

The COVID-19 pandemic was at least partially responsible for Russell’s career-long hiatus, though most prominent Premier Boxing Champions fighters have competed since the pandemic began.

In the Philippines’ Magsayo (23-0, 16 KOs), Russell will encounter a hard-hitting contender promoted by Manny Pacquiao’s company. Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s longtime trainer, also works with Magsayo, the WBC’s number two contender in the 126-pound division.

The 26-year-old Magsayo produced a spectacular knockout of Julio Ceja in his most recent fight. Magsayo survived a fifth-round knockdown and trailed on all three scorecards – 87-82, 86-83 and 86-83 – when he cracked Ceja with a right hand that knocked the former WBC interim 122-pound champion unconscious in the 10th round on the Pacquiao-Yordenis Ugas undercard August 21 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Though Magsayo is ranked second among the WBC’s featherweight contenders, the WBC ordered Russell late in September to fight Magsayo next.

Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.