ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey – Sean Gibbons likened the buildup toward the Gary Russell Jr.-Mark Magsayo fight to what happened prior to Zab Judah’s surprising loss to Carlos Baldomir in January 2006.
Argentina’s Baldomir upset a distracted Judah by unanimous decision at Madison Square Garden’s Theater and jeopardized Judah’s showdown with Floyd Mayweather. The favored Russell doesn’t have a bigger fight tentatively scheduled, but Gibbons, the president of Manny Pacquiao Promotions, senses that the long-reigning WBC featherweight champion isn’t quite himself as he gets ready to fight Saturday night for the first time in almost two years.
Russell missed weight on his first attempt Friday, but he came back to the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board’s scale about an hour later half a pound under the featherweight limit of 126 pounds. In addition to his excessive layoff, long even by Russell’s standards, Russell mentioned an undisclosed injury this week and admitted that he essentially trained himself for this bout because his father and longtime trainer, Gary Russell Sr., had his left foot amputated last month due to complications from type 2 diabetes.
“I don’t know Gary personally,” Gibbons, whose company promotes Magsayo, told BoxingScene.com following the weigh-in at The Music Room inside Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. “I like Gary. Gary’s a deep person. He seems to be a real quality guy, with his family and everything. And he speaks from the heart. I don’t like to use [Russell’s issues] for anything for Mark to think that he’s got something going.
“But just looking at the whole situation, it just looks like he has a lot of weight on his shoulders. Put it this way, boxing is about timing, and this is the time if you’re gonna get Gary Russell. … But again, the guy has got the best skills in the featherweight division, in the world. So even with all the distractions, Mark still has to be a very good fighter to win this fight.”
Russell’s issues notwithstanding, Caesars Sportsbook listed boxing’s longest-reigning male champion as a 4-1 favorite as of Friday night. The 33-year-old Russell (31-1, 18 KOs), a southpaw from Capitol Heights, Maryland, will make just the sixth defense of a title he won nearly seven years ago, when he knocked out Mexico’s Jhonny Gonzalez in the fourth round in Las Vegas.
The Philippines’ Magsayo (23-0, 16 KOs), who is trained by Freddie Roach, knocked out Mexico’s Julio Ceja (32-5-1, 28 KOs) in the 10th round of a fight he was losing on all three scorecards August 21 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas to earn a shot at Russell’s title. Russell last fought in February 2020, when he unanimously out-pointed Mongolia’s Tugstsogt Nyambayar (12-2, 9 KOs), then an unbeaten mandatory challenger.
“He seems a little discombobulated,” Gibbons said of Russell. “He doesn’t seem as good on his flow. But you know what? When the bell rings, dude’s been doing it a long time. I don’t look at all the excuses, all the things he’s been talking about. I think sometimes those are like mind games or playing things. Or they could be excuses. But you can’t think about any of that.
“I was at the Ugas-Pacquiao fight. ‘Oh, look at Ugas’ bicep.’ It didn’t mean sh*t. So, whatever’s gonna happen is gonna happen in the ring. Does he have a lot of distractions? Does he have a lot of excuses? Yeah. But I’ve seen fighters overcome and use that to their advantage sometimes. You know what I mean?”
Showtime will televise Russell-Magsayo as the main event of a three-bout broadcast set to start at 9 p.m. ET from Borgata Event Center.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.