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Gary Russell Jr blames lack of willing opponents for his long stretches of inactivity

Gary Russell Jr. hasn’t fought more than once a year since 2014.

Russell Jr. will have his first and possibly only fight of 2022 this weekend.
Russell Jr. will have his first and possibly only fight of 2022 this weekend.
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Featherweight titleholder Gary Russell Jr. is scheduled to make his annual appearance this weekend when he takes on Mark Magsayo in a Showtime main event. And while Russell currently holds the distinction of being boxing’s longest titleholder, he’s not often brought up in pound-for-pound talks largely due to his level of competition combined with the fact he just doesn’t fight very often, usually making an appearance only once per year and didn’t fight at all last year during the pandemic.

But if you’re to ask Russell why he fights so sporadically, he’ll tell you it’s because he can’t get other top fighters to sign on to face him.

“The reason I’m competing once a year is we’re not getting a dance partner,” said Russell, who was ESPN’s No. 1 featherweight before he was removed from the rankings last April for inactivity. “I’m forced to fight the next best guy rather than a champion. I definitely want to be more active. I know I’m not content with competing once a year.”

That said, the 33-year-old Russell would continue by saying that his light schedule has likely preserved his body considering that he stays in the gym all the time but doesn’t even spar unless he has a fight on tap. Looking ahead, though, Russell continues to maintain he wants fights against Gervonta Davis and a rematch against Vasiliy Lomachenko, to whom he lost his only fight in 2014. Russell says he’s been pushing Al Haymon to get those fights lined up, but that he can’t force the others into the ring with him.

“I definitely pushed, but [PBC founder Al Haymon] can’t force these guys to get in the ring with me,” Russell said. “It doesn’t make sense on a business aspect for someone who’s trying to protect their investment when it comes to a Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis [fight]. Cause it’s highly likely that he can get that ass scorched.”

If Davis cannot land either one of those fights he says he’ll be targeting a unification fight at 126, although it’s probably fair to be skeptical of what’s to come next if we’re taking his recent history into account. In the meanwhile Russell will make his WBC title defense against a driven Magsayo, who will be looking to ruin any and all of Russell’s plans.