By Keith Idec
Leo Santa Cruz is the opponent Gary Russell Jr. has wanted to fight the past few years.
If the WBC featherweight champion can’t entice a seemingly reluctant Santa Cruz into a 126-pound title unification fight later this year, Russell has an intriguing alternative in mind. Russell told BoxingScene.com that he happily would move up four pounds to face Gervonta Davis in what would be a big fight in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. area.
As sure as Russell is about beating the undefeated Davis, he is as unsure Davis’ promoter, Floyd Mayweather, would allow Davis to fight him. Mayweather and Leonard Ellerbe, his promotional company’s CEO, already have made it clear Davis won’t face WBA/WBO lightweight champ Vasiliy Lomachenko anytime soon.
The 30-year-old Russell (29-1, 17 KOs), who has lost only to Lomachenko (13-1, 10 KOs), hopes Mayweather and Ellerbe don’t take the same approach to him.
“It’s very possible that they wouldn’t fight me,” Russell said. “But it’s definitely a possibility. The question is, will Floyd and them actually be willing to put him in the ring with me?”
For now, Russell is concentrating on training for his May 18 title defense against Spain’s Kiko Martinez (39-8-2, 28 KOs). Showtime will televise the Russell-Martinez match as part of the Deontay Wilder-Dominic Breazeale undercard from Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Showtime also will air Davis’ next fight.
The 24-year-old Davis (21-0, 20 KOs) will return July 27 at Royal Farms Arena in his hometown of Baltimore. Former three-division champion Yuriorkis Gamboa (29-2, 17 KOs) is among the opponents under consideration to face Davis.
No matter who Davis opposes in three months, Russell isn’t impressed with the WBA “super” 130-pound champion’s level of opposition. Davis’ inexperience against top opponents is among the reasons the 2008 Olympian says Davis wouldn’t stand a chance against him.
Russell, of Capitol Heights, Maryland, even went as far as to use Mayweather’s mantra in describing a potential fight versus Davis.
“As far as the fight is concerned, easy work,” Russell said. “He hasn’t fought nobody. Who has Gervonta fought? He fought a whole lot of nobodies, people that, as soon as he hit ‘em, they fall. He hasn’t fought anybody that gave him any type of opposition at all. You know, fights are won off of intellect, not just off of being strong. I tell people, boxing is intellect manifested on the physical form. In most cases, the more educated person should win – not the strongest, not the biggest, not the tallest – the smartest person should win. There’s no way in hell that Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis has the intellect, the hand speed or even the ring generalship to deal with me. After about three, four rounds, he’ll be lost. He wouldn’t know what to do.”
His opinion of how their fight would unfold notwithstanding, Russell respects that Davis at least has been able to win world titles within the 130-pound division twice. Davis was a blossoming amateur when Russell launched his pro career 10 years ago and Russell has tracked Davis’ progress closely.
“I personally know Gervonta,” Russell said. “I know him as a younger, up-and-coming fighter. You know, when I was already competing in the Olympics and all of that stuff, he was still amateur. You know, he would come to the tournaments and stuff like that. One, I’m just glad that he’s in this position because he’s stayed consistent enough. A lot of these people in the sport of boxing, they tend to fall off before they reach the pinnacle of where they could actually go.
“I’m just glad that he was consistent enough to continue to grind and stay on the path that he was on when he was a little kid. Now he’s grown up, he became a world champion and now he put himself in a position to provide for his family, his friends and his loved ones. I think that’s cool in itself. That’s all I can ask for from the people who’s in my ethnic group, to be able to provide for their families the way that they would want to.”
Russell just disagrees with how Mayweather has handled Davis’ development. The skillful southpaw was particularly bothered by Mayweather’s admission that Davis won’t fight Lomachenko, who since has moved up to the lightweight division.
“That’s some sucker-ass sh*t,” Russell said. “If you want me to be candid, how could you possibly be a champion, but you ducking anybody? That don’t make sense to me. That’s not the attitude of a champion. So, his team has already came to an agreement that, ‘Ok, well, this guy might be too much for him.’ Or, ‘We don’t wanna take this fight at this time.’ That doesn’t make sense to me. I remember when they first asked him about Lomachenko, he was a world champion at the time, and he stated himself, ‘I don’t think I’m ready for that, as of yet.’
“How much more ready do you need to be? You’re a world champion. That doesn’t make sense to me. That shows me something in your character. In your character, it’s a kink in your armor. That’s a sign of weakness to me. To Mr. Gary Russell Jr., that’s something that’d be exploited in that square. I would exploit that. So, if Floyd and Leonard want to send Gervonta out there, then I would welcome it with open arms.”
Other than Jose Pedraza (25-2, 12 KOs), whom Davis stopped to win the IBF junior lightweight title in January 2017, Russell hasn’t been impressed by any of the opponents Davis has fought. Since topping Pedraza by seventh-round technical knockout, Davis has beaten Liam Walsh (21-1, 14 KOs), Francisco Fonseca (24-2-1, 18 KOs), Jesus Cuellar (29-3, 22 KOs) and Hugo Ruiz (39-5, 33 KOs) by knockout or TKO.
Davis was supposed to fight former three-division champion Abner Mares on February 9. Ruiz replaced Mares (31-3-1, 15 KOs) on short notice once Mares suffered a detached retina in his right eye during a sparring session late in January.
Mexico’s Ruiz, who went 10 rounds three weeks earlier on the Manny Pacquiao-Adrien Broner undercard, lasted only until there was one second remaining in the first round in Carson, California.
Russell is convinced Davis will continue fighting unimposing opponents for the foreseeable future.
“You’ve gotta understand, this is how these promoters and managers are making their money off of these fighters,” Russell said. “As soon as these fighters take a loss, they don’t have that ability to generate the revenue off that individual no more. These are walking cattle to some of these promoters and managers. They don’t look at these fighters like people.
“So, you know, if they wanna continue to feed ‘Tank’ these low-quality fights, with people that’s really gonna give him no competition at all, I mean, that’s good because he can build his fan base up. He’s running through these guys, he’s running them over and everything else. But what happens when he competes against someone that’s gonna try, just attempt to try?”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.