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Gary Russell Jr.: “I’m fighting for my fans.”

Gary Russell
Gary Russell

Following an impressive win over Eric Estrada on the Zab Judah-Amir Khan undercard in July, the boxing press began taking notice of DC featherweight and 2008 Olympian Gary Russell Jr. If that served as his introduction to American boxing fans, this Saturday against Leonilo Miranda on HBO will be his full-fledged, coming-out party.
“I feel like I’m coming out of this cocoon and turning into a butterfly,” Russell told Maxboxing Monday night at the New Revival Center of Renewal where he trains. “Fight after fight, I see my progression. I see my mental state change. I’m developing physically and mentally into a better person.”
Russell gained a measure of notoriety at the 2008 Beijing Games for his reported failure to make weight and subsequently not participating in the Olympics. He asserts that there is much more to the story, stating he will give the details at the right point in time. Russell said the disappointment of the 2008 Games continues to motivate him. “I use it as fuel. I use it as my motivation to keep pushing, that extra incentive to show my fans that I am great, that I’m one of the best.” Russell adds, “I do still feel some disappointment about the 2008 Olympics but I feel as though God just lets things happen for a reason in your life.”

A strong performance Saturday night would go a long way in helping fans forget the Olympic disappointment and both Russell and his father/trainer understand that boxing is both a sport and entertainment. “It’s extremely important to me not just to win but to look good, one of the reasons why is because I’m not just fighting for myself; I’m fighting for my fans. My job isn’t a boxer; I’m an entertainer and it’s my job to entertain the fans.” Gary Russell Sr. added, “We talk about that a lot. It’s a sport but it’s entertainment. [Gary Jr.] wants to be an entertainer. So you’ll see Gary not showboating but letting his hands go.”
“I need to give the fans a wonderful show. I need my fans to want to see me. It’s my job to bring excitement to the ring.” Russell Jr. has lived up to that so far in his young career. In earlier fights, he often overwhelmed opponents with hand speed and power, prompting me to call Russell a “middleweight packed into 126 pounds of fury.” He laughs at that description and is quick to add that he can also box and has shown more patience and discipline in recent fights. “As he fights more and more, he is certainly gained more maturity.” Russell Sr. observed.
That maturity is also displayed in his personal life for the deeply religious Russell. Later this month he is getting married. “It will be a big change, come September 24th. I’m 100% grateful. I’m 100% blessed.” Russell also stresses his life outside the ring, speaking about his fans, “I want them to know not just about me as a fighter. I definitely feel that I am a great fighter. I’m fast. I’m strong. I’m intelligent in the ring. I’m a thinker but I want to be thorough. I believe the definition of thorough is complete in every way. I don’t want to just be a good fighter or a good boxer. I want my fans to know that I’m a good person outside the ring.”
Russell takes pride in being part of the New Revival Center where he trains, which is Maryland’s largest reentry aftercare program assisting those previously incarcerated.  Maryland’s recidivism rate among ex-convicts averages 80%; in the New Revival program it’s 20%. “I don’t want to just be known as a fighter; I want to be known as Gary Russell Jr., someone that’s willing to come back and help the community, not just help people that have been down and out but people that have been through so many obstacles and trials and tribulations in their life. New Revival gives me an opportunity to just do that.”
As a fighter, Russell is a great position. With few great American fighters and even fewer that make you want to cheer for them, Russell could fill that void with his television friendly style and his humble attitude and demeanor outside of the ring.
His opponent, Leonilo Miranda, has by far the most impressive record of any Russell foe to date at 32-3 with 30 knockouts but make no mistake about it; this is a carefully chosen opponent and should not provide any real challenge to Russell’s unblemished record. Miranda built a record almost solely in Sonora, Mexico, is 1-2 outside of Sonora, and enters this contest as loser of three of his last five fights.
So Al Haymon has set the stage just right for us to witness to the emergence of a new future superstar among American fighters and by this time next week, expect the Gary Russell Jr. bandwagon to be filling up fast. However, Russell Sr. is quick to advise caution when thinking his son will be looking at a title fight anytime soon. “I’m thinking late next year. I’d like to get him, say, five or six more fights.” After all, the father/trainer tells Maxboxing he wants another one or two more eight-round bouts before the fighter he calls “Lil’ Gary” enters his first ten-round contest. As for the talk of “Lil’ Gary” facing Yuriorkis Gamboa anytime soon, Senior just laughs.
Don’t expect the fighter to not heed his father’s guidance. “Regardless of what the situation is, he will always be my father and actually, it’s a lot easier. I know that my Dad is going to have my best interests at hand not matter what it is, so it makes it a little easier to go out execute the game plan.”
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