There were easier options to pursue for a first title fight than to face Gary Russell Jr.

Many featherweights will attest to that claim, though Mark Magsayo is not among them. The unbeaten featherweight contender from the Philippines his chances in this weekend’s matchup versus the sport’s longest active male titleholder.

“Gary Russell is now going to face a real fighter,” Magsayo insisted to and other reporters during a recent Zoom media conference call. “He’s going to face someone who can fight.”

Magsayo (23-0, 16KOs) earned his title shot the hard way, rallying from behind to viciously knock out former WBC junior featherweight titlist Julio Ceja in the 10th round of their title eliminator last August 21 in Las Vegas. The win saw Magsayo rise to the mandatory challenger position, replacing unbeaten former 122-pound titlist Rey Vargas who opted to wait at least one more fight to pursue that path after a two-year ring absence due to the pandemic and the recovery process after suffering a broken leg.

Russell (31-1, 18KOs) has been inactive over the course of his near seven-year title reign, including a 23-month ring absence heading into their January 22 Showtime headliner from Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City. Still, the gifted southpaw from Capitol Heights, Maryland—who was part of the 2008 U.S. Olympic boxing team that competed in Beijing—is regarded as one of the best all-around fighters in the sport.

None of that is of any concern to his unbeaten challenger.

“His speed is good. But I have speed too. I can roll with it,” insists Magsayo. “My sparring has been good, emulating the style of Gary Russell. Every time we spar, we train for the style of Gary Russell.

“We’ve trained every day in the gym for three-and-a-half months. We’ve worked on a lot of (different) strategies in the gym. We are ready for him.”

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox