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Next in Line: Gary Russell Jr.


Gary Russell Jr., Featherweight, Capital Heights, MD


“As far back as I can remember, I was in the gym. Boxing is my life.” Before he was old enough to drive a car, Gary Russell Jr. knew that boxing would be his profession. “At the 2004 Junior Olympics, I won the gold medal. Then they wanted me compete in the International Games. Everybody there had fought internationally but it was my first time, and I actually won the gold medal in the International Games too. That’s when I really knew I could do this,” said Russell.


As they say, “the rest is history,” as the featherweight from Capital Heights, Maryland went on to a decorated amateur career, culminating with a spot on the on the 2008 US Olympic Boxing Team. His Olympic dreams ended before ever stepping in the ring in Beijing when he lost consciousness and was unable to weigh-in. Details of that event remain ambiguous.


Just months later, in January 2009, Russell made his pro debut in Tulsa, Oklahoma, stopping Antonio Reyes in three rounds. Since then, Russell has added 14 more victories, eight by knockout. Of his 15 bouts and 45 rounds as a pro, you can count the number of rounds he’s lost on one hand. He’s that good.

Russell is scheduled to see action this Friday night in San Diego as part of the “Solo Boxeo” telecast on Telefutura against a yet-to-be-named opponent.


In my 2011 preview, I said that Gary Russell Jr. fought like “a middleweight packed into 126 pounds of fury.” A description that amuses Russell, yet he was quick to point out that he is more than just a puncher and understands that need to be multi-dimensional in the ring. “There are guys that are 100% boxers and can’t punch and guys that are 100% punchers and can’t box; you want to have the best of both worlds. You want to be versatile in the ring; a lot of guys are really one-dimensional,” said Russell.


“My father uses a diamond as an example; you can turn it but if it’s a real diamond, it’s going to shine no matter what angle you look at it.” His father, Gary Russell Sr., has trained “Lil’ Gary” since he started.


Russell fights with a fan-friendly style that includes a lot of punches and a lot of power. Fighting predominantly on the West Coast, his style is popular with the Latino fans that appreciate activity and aggression in the ring, not subscribing to the “hit and not get hit” philosophy of boxing. “They love me in California and I’m just glad people are excited to see me perform,” he said. I joked that he could the first Mexican champion from DC.


Russell understands the importance of the entertainment value to the fans. “At the end of the day, I understand what this business is. I’m 100% entertainer; I want to entertain the fans.” That attitude will help Russell in the fight game as well; his level of activity makes it almost impossible for an opponent to “steal” a round. If Russell is to lose, he will go down swinging.


Outside the ring, Russell is a soft-spoken and deeply religious individual. “I train hard and I pray hard,” was the first thing he told me about himself. Training at a gym that is part of the New Revival Center of Renewal in Forestville, MD, Russell’s religious devotion goes deeper than just words. The church calls itself “a ministry to the homeless and formerly incarcerated” and serves as the largest ex-offender aftercare provider in the state of Maryland. It’s a mission Russell believes in, taking part in activities designed to help ex-convicts and those suffering from addiction.


The oldest of six brothers, Russell’s is a fighting family. Brother Gary Allen won last year’s national Golden Gloves title at 141 pounds. When talking about growing up in a house with six boys, Russell smiles, “It was fun; there was never a dull moment in the house. It was always something, somebody doing something they had no business doing, being boys. My goodness, breaking stuff around the house, getting into trouble.”


He likes being a part of the New Revival Center and it works with his goal of surrounding himself with positive people, “Everyone I surround myself with is real positive; if you surround yourself with positive energy, you can’t get anything back but positive.” He speaks of his foundation of family, faith and friends and their importance and Russell, engaged to be married this September, has a daughter of his own. Russell said his goal in life is to be the father for his kids that his father was for him.


His goals inside the ring are to fight for a regional belt within the next three or four fights and then a world title and a big event back home in the DC area, where he has yet to fight as a pro. “Closing out the year, I want to do something big, a big event here back home.”


While his future will most definitely see him moving up in weight, Russell is set on first conquering the featherweight division. “I want to win a title a 126 before any move up. I want to wait until my body is ready to move up.” He feels he matches up well with any of the top featherweights today, especially Yuriorkis Gamboa. “I really think that would be a great fight,” Russell offered. He’s also excited right now about the amount of attention being paid to smaller weight classes. “That would have never happened years ago.”


Russell Sr. takes a more measured approach to his son’s progress, “He’s 22; why rush things?” So it’s fair to say that a world title shot is at least 12 months away but a minor title shot is almost certainly in Russell’s near future. Given that he is managed by Al Haymon, don’t be surprised to see him featured on HBO’s “Boxing After Dark” soon and gaining buzz in the title picture at 126.


“I think I’m at the top of the food chain,” Russell told me when speaking of the contenders at 126. While there are still questions to be answered, if Russell can maintain his level of activity in the ring as he steps up in competition, he’ll remain a very tough guy to beat. So as the boxing media focuses on the top tier of the featherweight division, keep a watchful on Gary Russell Jr. because soon, he’ll considered one the brightest young stars among the little guys and in my opinion, is Next in Line.


Questions or comments can be directed to Please visit Alec at or follow him on Twitter at You can also tune in to Alec’s new weekly online show every Tuesday at 9:00 PM EST at

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