Undefeated featherweight prospect Gary Russell Jr. has scored three straight knockouts since his unanimous decision victory over hard-punching fellow left-hander Leonilo Miranda in 2011, which followed an equally one-sided rout of Eric Estrada two months earlier.
A 24-year-old resident of Captiol Heights, Md., Russell Jr. (21-0, 13 knockouts) now claims that his issues with brittle hands are behind him as approaches his next fight on March 2 at The Apollo Theater in New York.
But as Russell enters the ring against an opponent yet to be determined, he will also have an eye toward eventually facing WBC 126-pound beltholder Daniel Ponce de Leon (44-4, 35 KOs), who is scheduled to defend against Puerto Rican prospect Jayson Velez (20-0, 15 KOs) in the main event of the same card.
In addition to De Leon, Russell has an eye out for former WBO titleholder Juan Manuel Lopez (31-2, 28 KOs), who will return to the ring on Feb. 2 against Brazilian junior lightweight opponent Aldimar Silva Santos at Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez, in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, site of his first of two knockout losses to Orlando Salido.
Lopez will be back in action for the first time since March 10, when he was stopped in the 10th round by Salido in San Juan, a repeat of Salido’s eighth-round knockout victory in April of last year.
The De Leon-Velez undercard will also feature unbeaten lightweight contender Sharif “The Lion” Bogere (23-0, 15 KOs) and Richard Abril (17-3-1, 8 KOs) in a clash for the WBA’s belt. Bogere suffered a partial tear of his left Achilles tendon that forced him out of November’s scheduled bout against Abril.
When Russell was faced with Miranda, he was up against an opponent who came in with a mark of 32-3 with 30 knockouts, having won his first 30 bouts.
Russell followed up the win over Miranda with a first-round knockout of Mexican Heriberto Ruiz in November of 2011, thanks to a perfectly executed, crunching right hook to the jaw.
Russell similarly scored consecutive third-round stoppages over Christopher Perez and Roberto Castaneda in June and November of last year, setting him up for a 2013 he claims “will be my year.”
In this Q&A, Russell shared about his upcoming bout, his future, and, also, Washington Redskins’ quarterback Robert Griffin.
RingTV.com: Are you hoping to be more consistent this year?
Gary Russell Jr.: This is definitely going to be my year. We want to stay busy and we want to stay consistent. That’s one of the main things that we have been missing is consistency.
As far as competing, though, with every fight, I feel as though I have matured more as a fighter, but that gap of time difference between fights, that’s time that we can’t get back.
RingTV.com: How often do you want to fight in 2013?
GRJ: Well, we want to get at least three fights in consistently throughout the year, and then the fourth fight will definitely be for the title.
We want to go sometime in March. God willing, there are no accidental head butts or injuries, and then, we’ll go in March.
Then, you will have the month of April as a preparation month, and then, we’ll go again in May. So we’ll fight in May.
And then, the month of June will be another preparation month, and we’ll fight again in July. August will be another preparation month.
So, come September, we will have wanted to have three fights in consistently, and the fourth fight will definitely be a title shot in the fall. It’s just that the consistency is the thing.
RingTV.com: Do you want anybody specifically for the title shot?
GRJ: Ponce de Leon is one of the guys that we’re definitely looking at. We’re looking at Juan Manuel Lopez along with Ponce de Leon.
Those are the guys we’re definitely looking forward to going up against. So, like I said, we will have wanted to have gotten three fights in, consistently.
And then, the fourth fight of the year, definitely, will be a title shot. As of now, those are the guys that we’re definitely after as far as a title shot.
RingTV.com: Who is your favorite athlete, other than yourself?
GRJ: In order for me to have a favorite athlete, that would have be someone that I honestly sat and watched consistently in addition to being someone who admire for what they bring to the sport.
It’s got to be somebody whose craft I do admire as a young guy, coming up, and who has the world on his shoulders.
So, more than likely, that’s Sugar Ray Robinson. If I had to pick a favorite athlete, it would probably be Sugar Ray Robinson.
GRJ: I’m going to let you in on the life of Gary Russell Jr. Honestly, I’m not a sports fan at all. I don’t watch basketball, don’t watch football.
The one time that I decided, “Let me just pick a team and stick with a team,” I picked the New England Patriots. They won 16 games in a row, and then they lost the last game.
They lost the game in the Super Bowl. From that point on, I just said, “You know what? It’s not my luck.” So, from then on, I’ve never really been a fan of it.
But I always have to support the home team. I’m glad that the guy, RG3 is doing his thing. Even as a rookie, I am definitely the type of person that loves to support people who genuinely love doing what they’re doing.
He’s focused and he’s giving 100 percent of what he’s got to the sport, and he loves it. I definitely support RG3. To win that many games in a row, that’s definitely a big thing.
RingTV.com: What can the fans expect from you on March 2?
GRJ: They can expect for me to give them the same thing that they always see, which is a lot of explosiveness, great ring generalship, and a true connoisseur of the sport.
RingTV.com: Being that De Leon is on the card, will you be looking to make a statement?
GRJ: Oh, nah, I never look at it in that manner. It doesn’t matter if Mike Tyson is on the card, I always look at myself as the main event.
I always feel as though I am the best person or the best fighter that’s participating on the card in my eyes. At the end of the day, the only thing I’m worried about is my performance and how I look as a fighter.
Photos / Craig Bennett, Fightwireimages.com, Naoki Fukuda
Lem Satterfield can be reached at [email protected]