ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey – Gary Russell Jr. still hasn’t given up on the meaningful featherweight fight that has eluded him for several years.
When Showtime’s Brian Custer asked Russell on Thursday in a broader sense about not getting the fights he wants, Russell took the opportunity to call out Leo Santa Cruz. Russell again questioned Santa Cruz’s willingness to take the toughest fights on a consistent basis during a press conference to promote Russell’s featherweight title fight against undefeated Filipino challenger Mark Magsayo on Saturday night.
“Stop acting like a sucker and get in the ring – point blank, period,” Russell said during an event held at Music Box, a theater inside Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. “We’re gladiators. We’re fighters. Conduct yourself as such and be a fighter. Don’t pick and choose who you gonna fight against. Let’s fight. Just like Mark said, you know, he said he’s gonna show me what the Filipinos bring and what they mean. That’s honorable. That’s very honorable, you know, for you to wanna support not just yourself, but your people as a whole. That’s what you supposed to do.
“You know, I wish a Leo Santa Cruz would be willing to do something like that. You know, I’m pretty sure the Hispanic community would want Leo Santa Cruz to get into the ring and compete and fight. I mean, they probably don’t even care if he lose. They just wanna see him fight, show a sense of honor, show a sense of integrity. That’s what we’re looking at in the sport of boxing.”
The 33-year-old Russell (31-1, 18 KOs) is the longest-reigning male champion in boxing, but he’ll make just the sixth defense of his WBC 126-pound crown versus Magsayo (23-0, 16 KOs) in the nearly seven years since he won it. The 2008 U.S. Olympian captured that title in March 2015, when he stopped Mexico’s Jhonny Gonzalez in the fourth round at Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas.
Russell blames his inactivity largely on a lack of cooperation from the opponents he most wants to face. In addition to Santa Cruz, Russell has openly campaigned to battle unbeaten Baltimore native Gervonta Davis, who knocked out Santa Cruz in October 2020 and has won at least secondary world titles in the 130-pound, 135-pound and 140-pound divisions.
“I feel like the sport of boxing is getting weak to a certain extent,” Russell said. “And it’s the few guys like Mark and like myself that’s willing to put it all on the line. You know, I take my hat off to ‘Jo Jo’ Diaz, always gotta shout out my man ‘Jo Jo.’ And even ‘King Tug,’ he was willing to put it all on the line, you know, for the Mongolian people, you know, to support them and a sense of honor and integrity. That’s what we need in this sport. Let’s keep it moving. Let’s not let the sport get watered down anymore. We need real gladiators. We need real fighters.”
Russell defeated Diaz (32-2-1, 15 KOs) by unanimous decision in May 2018. The Washington, D.C., native also topped Tugstsogt Nyambayar (12-2, 9 KOs) unanimously in Russell’s most recent action, a 12-rounder in February 2020.
Showtime, which televised those two Russell bouts, also will air Russell-Magsayo as a main event Saturday night. That three-bout broadcast is scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. ET from Borgata Event Center.
Santa Cruz (37-2-1, 19 KOs) is scheduled to end a 15-month layoff February 5. The four-division champion is set to oppose Phoenix’s Keenan Carbajal (23-2-1, 15 KOs) in the 10-round co-feature before welterweights Keith Thurman (29-1, 22 KOs, 1 NC) and Mario Barrios (26-1, 17 KOs) meet in the 12-round main event at Mandalay Bay’s Michelob ULTRA Arena.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.