RingTV.com readers overwhelmingly voted Gary Russell Jr. the Prospect of the Year for 2011, recognizing the 23-year-old featherweight’s considerable ability and also affirming the perks of having the right connections in boxing.
Russell (19-0, 11 knockouts) isn’t as battle tested as some of the other candidates in this year’s readers’s choice poll but the ultra-fast southpaw received more than half the votes.
The Washington, D.C. native, who practically lapped the field with 55.8 percent of the vote, was still fighting in six-round bouts at the start of the year and has yet to fight past the eight-round distance.
By contrast, heavyweight hopeful Tyson Fury, a distant second with 18 percent, proved his mettle by outpointing fellow British prospect Dereck Chisora over the 12-round distance in July.
Junior welterweight standout Jessie Vargas, who outworked dangerous fringe contender Josesito Lopez in a heated 10-round scrap in September, was third with 11.1 percent.
The “also rans” Logan McGuinness (8.4), Demetrius Andrade (5.5), and Javier Fortuna (1.2) were also tested in tough 10-round bouts.
However, Russell was the young up-and-comer on the minds of most fans by the end of the year for a few reasons.
For starters Russell, who fought six times in 2011 (often on the undercards of major fights thanks to his relationship with Golden Boy Promotions), was busy.
And beginning with the highlights of his eight-round unanimous decision over once-beaten Eric Estrada that were shown during the Amir Khan-Zab Judah broadcast in July, Russell appeared on HBO.
His eight-round unanimous decision over Leonilo Miranda was the co-featured bout to the Jan Zaveck-Andre Berto welterweight title bout on Sept. 3. It was a rarity for HBO to broadcast a bout scheduled for only eight rounds, and most fans and media believe it wouldn’t have happened without the influence of Russell’s powerful manager Al Haymon.
Still, it’s clear that Russell is gifted with the kind of elite-level talent that the subscription cable network wants to showcase.
An amateur star who won numerous national titles before making the 2008 U.S. Olympic squad, Russell possesses phenominal speed, good power and solid overall technique. He’s smart and economical with his punches, but he knows how to close the show when he hurts his opponents.
Russell blinds them with his lightening-fast jab. He weakens them with his body attack. And he has the ability to turn most fighters’ lights out with his arrow-straight left and his compact right hook, the punch responcible for starching late-sub Heriberto Ruiz in November.
The first-round KO of Ruiz was a taped highlight shown in its entirety during HBO’s Saul Alvarez-Kermit Cintron/Adrien Broner-Martin Rodriguez broadcast. Some fans were awed by the chilling one-punch stoppage, others were disgusted that a knockout of a bona-fide journeyman was televised.
They and many members of the boxing media want to know when Russell will step up his opposition, which in a way is a compliment to the speed merchant.
Ruiz is indeed a journeyman, but he’s no chump. Only current WBA 122-pound titleholder Rico Ramos has blown him out in recent years. Ruiz outpointed Rey Bautista in 2008 and was competitive with the Filipino fringe contender during their rematch in June. He also gave former two-time 122-pound beltholder Steve Molitor fits in 12-round split decision loss in 2009.
Miranda, a 29-year-old veteran who had scored 30 stoppages in 32 vicotries against only three losses, was coming off a heated10-round split-decision loss to undefeated Cuban amateur star Luis Franco when he fought Russell.
Still, fans want more. Maybe they will get more when Russell makes his Showtime debut on the undercard of the Victor Ortiz-Andre Berto rematch on Feb. 11. If not, they will at some point in 2012.
The featherweight division is a deep one and Russell knows he has to beat better competition if he wants to be more than a just a prospect.
Today’s RingTV.com readers’ choice year-end awards poll category is “Comeback of the Year.” Go to the poll section on the right side of the homepage to cast your vote now.