RingTV.com caught up to undefeated featherweight Gary Russell Jr. in advance of his Showtime ShoBox: The New Generation headliner against Roberto Castaneda at Fantasy Springs Casino, Indio, Calif., on Friday
A speedy and technically-sound boxer who is often too fast and skilled for his opponents, Russell (20-0, 12 knockouts) will pursue his third straight knockout victory against Castaneda (20-2-1, 15 KOs) as part of a “Night Of The Olympians.”
A resident of Capitol Heights, Md., Russell turned 24 on June 5, just 25 days before scoring a third-round stoppage against a solid fighter in Chris Perez (23-3, 14 KOs) in his last fight.
Russell had been in line for an IBF eliminator bout against Cuban Olympian and then-unbeaten Luis Franco, of Miami, whose winner was to challenge titleholder Billy Dib, of Australia. But Russell did not want to wait until the fall to face Franco, whose promoter was aiming for the matchup to take place at that time.
In September of last year, Russell dominated hard-punching, fellow southpaw Leonilo Miranda, of Mexico, for a unanimous decision over eight rounds in a bout that followed an equally dominant eight-round unanimous decision rout of Eric Estrada in July of last year.
In Miranda, Russell had vanquished a fighter whose record was 32-3 with 32 knockouts, coming in, and who had won his first 30 bouts, (with 28 of those being by stoppage.
Up until facing Miranda, Russell had been focusing his training on the prospect of facing a right-handed opponent. In addition, Russell had to overcome a tweaked left shoulder as well as severe nasal congestion against Miranda.
Russell also said that his victory over Miranda signaled the end of his issues with brittle hands, an assertion which appeared to be validated when he took just over two minutes to dispose of Mexican Heriberto Ruiz in the first round in November of last year.
Against Ruiz, Russell blasted home a left to the body, followed by a right hook to the other side of Ruiz’s torso and then a perfeclty executed, crunching hook to the jaw that planted his foe on the canvas for good.
“I’ve been using these gloves called Protex 3s, which is a big factor and a big plus as far as my sparring gloves and my bag gloves and everyting. Protex 3s, man, they offer more cushion for my hands and they’re for guys who have hand injuries, and they’ve worked perfectly,” said Russell, during an interview with RingTV.com in January.
“They’ve given me the chance to actually work on what I want to work on and to still be effective. So everything is better, as far as the way that I wrap my hands during my training. The way that I allow my hands a chance to rest. The change in gloves also played a big role in the condition of my hands. I feel good, no hand injuries. This has been one of the best training camps that I’ve ever been in so far.”
Russell’s intentions to make a run at a title run in 2012 were hampered by hand injuries and pullouts by opponents.
In the meantime, promotional stablemates such as RING, WBA and WBC junior welterweight beltholder Danny Garcia, former WBO junior lightweight beltholder Adrien Broner, and WBO middleweight titleholder Peter Quillen have gained more exposure.
Russell addressed his career with RingTV.com in this Q&A.
RingTV.com: First of all, congratulations on finally getting a fight, but has the process been frustrating?
Gary Russell Jr.: Oh my goodness, it has been frustrating. It’s definitely been frustrating. But it’s not a big deal. I’m 100 percent prepared and I’m ready.
The frustrating part is more so preparing your entire camp for a certain guy, and then, for that guy to pull out. So now, you feel as though your entire camp has been in vain. You didn’t get a chance to prepare for the right guy.
But, you know, being an elite athlete, any elite athlete can move forth no matter who our opponent is supposed to be. So being that I have the pedigree, that’s something that definitely helps with situations like that. So I’m ready.
RingTV.com: Do you hear from your fans, as we in the media often do, that they want to know when you are fighting next?
You have guys making things up. They say that they’re injured so that they don’t have to compete against me. So you have to get used to it.
It comes with the territory. You have to get accustomed to it as a fighter, so I’m willing to accept it and to grow from it.
RingTV.com: Do you think that there was a perception, say, during the decisions against Eric Estrada and Leonilo Miranda, that you lacked knockout power?
GRJ: I’m not sure. But I think that as far as me having the total package as a fighter, that’s one of the reasons why a lot of guys don’t want to fight me.
Unfortunately, a lot of people see that I have hand speed, but they don’t really say a lot about my punching ability. I think that’s going to change.
One of the reasons why, I think, is that people if people remember or look back, they will see that I have had a lot of hand injuries.
So that was early in my professional career, and that’s something that made it hard for me to actually sit all the way down on my punches the way that I’ve wanted to.
So, now, everything is coming together. I’m much more able to sit down on my punches, and you will see that a lot more in this next fight, so, you know, I’m ready.
RingTV.com: What have you done in terms of your training to help to remedy your injuries?
GRJ: I think it’s when we’ve worked out, we’ve switched to using 20 ounce gloves just to give more cushion and more support to the hand, when I hit the heavy bag.
I’ve used them on the heavy bag for a couple weeks, and for the heavy bag, strictly. Everything that’s light work, as far as anything with me pounding with the hand.
It was more so to see if it would help, and whether it’s something that we’ll have to research further and maybe actually getting some work done on my hands.
The method has worked. We’ve taken some of the stress off of my hands, and we put on bigger, 20 ounce gloves to hit the bag, and the mitts.
We’ve tried to stay off the bag and go more toward the double-end bag, where I’m still hitting something, but it’s less stress on my hands, and it’s made a big difference. It’s definitely made a big difference.
RingTV.com: In which fight did you start to develop the confidence to let your hands go?
GRJ: I felt comfortable, like I said, in the Leonilo Miranda fight. That was the camp where we actually started to experiment and to see the different ways where I could steal get our work in with less stress on my hands.
That was the camp where everything started to come together. I was telling my dad, “man, I feel good. I feel really good.”
That was the camp where I felt like I could really start to sit down on some shots again. I could really sit down on my shots, and I could turn them over, and I could settle down on everything.
RingTV.com: Any frustration given that promotional stablemates such as Adrien Broner, Danny Garcia, Peter Quillin and Austin Trout seem to have either surpassed you in terms of exposure or gotten bigger fights?
Not at all. I’m glad that these guys have gotten to that level and that they’ve achieved their goals. Because, like I say, we all came up together.
Even in the amateurs. It’s crazy to see so many fighters come up in the amateurs that have a ton of talent and ability.
But to see that there are so few that have actually pushed through and persevere to get to where they are, so you definitely can’t take nothing away from those guys.
But, no, it doesn’t add on to any frustration at all. Actually, we could have gone for titles, but we decided not to. We decided to actually sit back and harness our craft a little more. I know that 2013 will be my year.
We never overlook anyone, so we have to take this thing one step at a time. Hopefully, we get past this guy on the on Nov. 9. But the following year will be our year. I’m going to come back very strong. I’m ready.
RingTV.com: Are you going to stay at featherweight, and do you have any desire to await guys like Nonito Donaire or Abner Mares?
GRJ: No. My eyes are not set on anyone in particular. I feel as though that I am that guy at the featherweight division, so there is no one in particular that I have my eyes set on or locked on.
But we will receive one of these titles. I do have room to grow, but before we do move up in weight, we’ll definitely receive a title in the featherweight division.
Photos / Craig Bennett, Fightwireimages.com, Naoki Fukuda
Lem Satterfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org