When featherweight Gary Russell Jr. enters the ring against journeyman Juan Ruiz on Friday night, the talented 25-year-old southpaw will do so while keenly aware of his critics, even while claiming to ignore them.
Russell (22-0, 13 knockouts) and WBC titleholder Abner Mares (26-0-1, 14 KOs), for example, have recently engaged in an online dialogue during which Russell has said that it would “be so easy” to defeat Mares, who responded that Russell “hasn’t fought any A-level fighters.”
Case in point: in Ruiz, Russell (22-0, 13 knockouts) will be in against a 34-year-old who has lost six straight fights, and nine of his past 10. Ruiz — while never having been knocked out — has registered just seven stoppage victories in 34 fights, the last being over a past-his-prime Wayne McCullough in June of 2008.
“I personally don’t care what people have to say about my opponent, you know,” said Russell. “At the end of the day, I’m the one that is in the ring competing against him. We’re managing my career the way that we want our career to go. We’ve only got one shot at it. We’re going to cross our ‘T’s’ and dot our ‘I’s.’”
A resident of Capitol Heights, Md., who has been promoted by Golden Boy, Russell will face Ruiz in a scheduled 10-rounder on the undercard of a heavyweight bout between Deontay Wilder and Sergei Liakhovich that will be televised on Showtime from the Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, Calif.
Does Russell need a knockout to look impressive?
“We never go into a fight saying, ‘Okay, I want to get rounds in,’ or, ‘Okay, I want to knock this guy out.’ We never go into a fight thinking that. I go into a fight prepared and ready for anything that they throw at me. So we’re prepared to go the duration of the entire 10 rounds,” said Russell.
“We’re ready for it. We know that this guy is going to be real tough. He’s a straight-forward fighter and he’s more of a bully fighter who wants to come in and stay real close and push you up against the ropes and try to work his magic there. So, we’re definitely prepared.”
In January, Russell claimed that 2013 “will be my year,” but then two months later suffered a hairline fracture in his left hand during a unanimous decision over Vyacheslav Gusev in his first-ever 10-rounder.
“We are currently looking into two names who are world champions,” said Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer, during an interview last month. “I’m not going to go into detail about who they are, but Gary Russell will fight this year for a world title.”
“When my career is over with, either I’ll become this great champion that everyone says that I have the potential to be, or I’ll be a prima donna, or whatever the situation is,” said Russell.
“Either way, they’ll be criticizing someone else’s opponent after it’s all over. So that’s not my concern. I really don’t focus on what they say. Half the people that criticize me, they can’t beat the people that I’m in the ring with anyway, so it just doesn’t matter.”
Russell’s major concern, however, is getting through the fight without his chronic hand injuries affecting him.
“That’s pretty much behind us, but there are always ongoing challenges,” said Russell. “So, that comes with the territory, but I’ll keep on pushing it. I’m just hoping for the best. God willing, we get through this fight injury-free.”
Photo by Craig Bennett
Lem Satterfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org