Every time boxing’s biggest stars retire, there is a panic among the public that the sport will be devoid of box-office draws. And in each instance, someone new comes along.
When Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao decide to hang the gloves up, featherweight standout Gary Russell Jr. (18-0, 10 knockouts) is confident that he will be the new face of boxing.
“I don’t think we gonna be moving too fast and one of the reasons why is no matter who I fight or who I compete against, I’m still gonna be in the shadow of Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao,” Russell told RingTV.com. … “No one is actually going to be able to get their shine on until these two guys retire.
“I believe after Floyd and Pacquiao fight in May, both guys will more than likely retire. Boxing will be looking for a new face. Hopefully I’ll be one of the new faces.”
The Washington D.C. native is one of boxing’s top prospects – regarded by many as possessing the fastest hands in the sport.
The undefeated southpaw is preparing to face Heriberto Ruiz (47-11-2, 29 KOs) on Saturday at the U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati, a twist for Russell Jr. as he was slated to face Dat Nguyen just a week ago. It’s thrown Russell Jr. for a loop, but he is confident nonetheless. And he’ll have to be impressive to keep the momentum of his breakthrough year, as HBO will be televising highlights of the contest.
“It most definitely piss(es) (me) off, because we put so much time and effort on working on specific things that we know are going to be there, as far as weaknesses and everything,” said Russell of the late switch. “All the work was in vain for no particular reason. That’s the great thing, though, about being versatile. I’m willing to make the necessary adjustments to get the victory in this fight.”
Russell Jr., 23, made his HBO debt this past Labor Day weekend in an eight rounder, a rarity for an HBO telecast, signifying the type of prospect Russell Jr. is. Critics have credited powerful boxing advisor Al Haymon with obtaining the HBO appearance for an eight-round bout. But to Russell Jr., Haymon is much more than just the man who lines up his fights.
“Al is a big plus. He’s taught me the game, he’s taught me the business,” said Russell, one of five brothers all named Gary. “He’s taught me how to manage my money. There are a lot of guys in boxing who have made a lot of money, but when they’re finished boxing the money is longer there. He’s trying to help me be a businessman outside of just boxing. He helps me a lot.”
While Russell is lauded for his hand speed, combination punching and jab, critics have pointed to his lack of pop as to what could be his downfall. To Russell, though, speed kills and punching power is secondary.
“I think hand speed is one of the greatest things you can bring into the ring,” said Russell Jr., who is trained by his father. “I know guys that are strong and have power, but it really doesn’t mean anything if you can’t hit the opponent with it. I think speed plays a big factor and a good jab at that. I think [my speed] will give any fighter problems.”
Being a combination puncher, Russell always admired the great Meldrick Taylor growing up, studying his fights and gaining insight from his battles.
“It doesn’t matter who he fought, he would throw four-, five-, six-punch combinations,” said the Capitol Heights, Md.-based fighter. “It didn’t matter how great his opponent’s skill was, he would make it happen.”
Heading into 2012, the decorated amateur is hoping to fight the best in the sport, but there is one fighter in particular he would love to scrap with.
“I don’t duck anyone, I’m ready for whoever, whenever. As long as me and my team come to a mutual agreement, then I’m 100 percent down,” Russell said regarding a potential clash with Nonito Donaire. “I believe that Donaire is one of the best guys for me to compete against. He would give me the best competition. I honestly really don’t feel as though [Yuriorkis] Gamboa would be better competition than Donaire. Donaire is more technically sound than Gamboa.”
Competing at 126 pounds now, Russell feels that he can fight as high as 140 going forward, as he estimates he walks around at 135 pounds. And as he sees former amateur stablemate Adrien Broner fighting for his first title on HBO in his hometown of Cincinnati, Russell feels his day will come when he can compete for a major title in Washington D.C., a day he feels is not too far away. An impressive performance on Saturday will get him one step closer to that moment.
“I don’t want to come home to fight unless it’s for a major title,” said Russell “I don’t want to help headline another person. I want to be the main event on that card. I want all my fans to come out and support me.
“It would mean a lot to not just me, but to my fans as well. It’s not too far down the road.”
Mike Coppinger is a regular boxing contributor to USA TODAY and THE RING. He is a member of THE RING Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Sports Boxing Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCoppinger