Gary Russell Jr. called his WBO title bout on June 21 against Top-Rank promoted Vasyl Lomachenko at StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., a potential "breakthrough" in the long-running "Cold War" that has prevented Top Rank's fighters from facing those such as Russell who are promoted by Golden Boy and advised by the powerful Al Haymon.
Russell (24-0, 14 knockouts), a featherweight southpaw who turned 26 on June 5, shared his thoughts during a Tuesday conference call promoting his bout with Lomachenko, which is part of a tripleheader tht includes former welterweight titleholders Robert Guerrero and Devon Alexander in separate bouts against Yoshihiro Kamegai and Jesus Soto Karass, respectively, on Showtime.
Russell praised Golden Boy's out-bidding Top Rank in April for the right to promote the Showtime-televised bout with the Lomachenko, a Ukrainian two-time Olympic gold medalist who turned 26 in February.
Not only is there a bitter rivalry between the promotional companies, Golden Boy and Top Rank, but Haymon and Top Rank CEO Bob Arum are also adversaries.
"Honestly, this is a big honor to break the cycle of the Al Haymon and Bob Arum and Top Rank and Golden Boy thing, because you have all of these great fighters from both sides of the fence that the fans would love to see," said Russell of Capitol Heights, Md. "But they don't get the opportunity to perform against each other and they don't get the opportunity to see it because of the ongoing situation."
On separate sides, for example, have been Golden Boy-promoted and Haymon-advised fighters such as Floyd Mayweather Jr., Shawn Porter, Danny Garcia, Lucas Matthysse and Marcos Maidana, where Top Rank has Manny Pacquiao, Juan Manuel Marquez, Tim Bradley and Ruslan Provodnikov, to name a few. [Editor’s note: Provodnikov is a Banner Promotions fighter, but Top Rank gained options on the Russian pressure fighter following the Mike Alvarado-Provodnikov fight.]
"I think that this is a big breakthrough for me and Lomachenko to be able to be one of the first to actually do it," said Russell. "Hopefully, this will open the door for a lot of the other fights that the fans would want to see facilitated."
Arum had planned to take part, only to be informed hours before it that "Stephen Espinoza, Executive Vice President, General Manager, Showtime Sports and Event Programming, requested that Arum not be on the call," and that "Carl Moretti, VP of Boxing Operations of Top Rank, will replace Arum."
The conference call, however, played against the backdrop of controversy.
"I think that [the Cold War] is what the media and the social media likes to jump on, but at the end of the day, I just can't see in the middle of the sixth round guys rooting for Al or Bob," said Moretti.
"It's a fight where Lomachenko has to worry about Gary Russell, and Gary Russell has to worry about Lomachenko. Anything other than that is just Twitter talk, which people seem to love, lately… Hopefully, it's the start of bigger things to come."
It remains to be seen, however, whether Russell's sentiment is more akin to Romeo and Juliet hoping that love conquers all in the feud that rivals that between the Montagues and Capulets.