Showtime Championship Boxing is back this Saturday night, with Gary Russell Jr returning from an amazing two-year layoff instead of his standard one-year absence, making a mandatory defense of his WBC featherweight title against challenger Mark Magsayo.
Russell (31-1, 18 KO) has held his title since beating Jhonny Gonzalez in 2015, making a whopping five title defenses in the nearly seven years since then. Magsayo (23-0, 16 KO) is the younger man, unbeaten and still somewhat unproven, though he has been tested, which may be a good or bad thing.
Will Russell make another successful defense as we bid him adieu until at least 2023, or can Magsayo end a lengthy, fairly uneventful title reign?
Scott Christ (0-1)
I’ve been a believer in Gary Russell Jr’s talent, but not only doesn’t Russell fight often enough for an observer’s liking, but he rarely fights anyone capable of testing out the theories. I also do wonder if we saw some evidence of time starting to catch up to Russell in his early 2020 fight after Tugstsogt Nyambayar, and that was two years ago. Russell won that fight without controversy, but he did fade a bit down the stretch.
Was it because he let off the gas in a fight he was sure he had won, or are the legs not there as much anymore? We’ve seen him pushed hard for 12 exactly twice other than that: His loss to Vasiliy Lomachenko in 2014 and his win over JoJo Diaz in 2018.
Magsayo will need time to be against Russell, will need Gary to have faded. He’s an OK fighter, but he had to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat against Julio Ceja and was lucky to get a decision over Rigoberto Hermosillo. The Filipino’s best shot is a combination of his power and the chance Russell’s inactivity and age have diminished him, and even if they have, it will have to be by a fairly significant amount; otherwise, I think Russell wins this going away, and has the ability and skill set to force a stoppage on accumulation if he wants it. Russell UD-12
Wil Esco (1-0)
Gary Russell Jr is an extremely talented fighter who I’m convinced just isn’t really in love with the sport of boxing. He talks in the media like he is, but Russell hasn’t fought more than once in a calendar year since 2014 and he’s talked quite a bit about fights he’s never seemed keen on actually making.
That said, Russell is fast and sharp and generally looks the part of a top-tier fighter when he actually does fight, but at age 33 I’d really like to see him in a career-defining fight, not so much treading water as we’ve grown accustomed. As for Magsayo, he’s a good fighter, but he just doesn’t have the natural talent of someone like Russell. I think Magsayo comes to bring the fight to Russell but will ultimately get picked apart to lose a clear decision over the distance. Russell UD-12
John Hansen (1-0)
The time has come for Gary Russell Jr to once again emerge from hibernation and give a mandatory defense of his title.
The odds on this fight are a little closer than I expected. Maybe there’s something extra I’m not seeing? Magsayo is a young, strong challenger with an undefeated record and the heart and power to seemingly pose a real threat. But, so were JoJo Diaz and Tugstsogt Nyambayar, and Russell won clear decisions against both of them.
Russell has spent the past seven years proving that an extended layoff is unlikely to have left any rust on him. And he’s handled challenges like Magsayo more than once already. Unless we get some Scooby Doo shenanigans where a disguised Vasiliy Lomachenko pulls off a Mark Magsayo mask in the middle of the ring, we’re probably getting a fun fight that once again ends with a victorious Gary Russell Jr. Russell UD-12
Patrick L. Stumberg (1-0)
I can’t help but feel like Russell’s inactivity is eventually going to come back to bite him. He looked mighty mortal in the last half of his fight with Nyambayar, showing a significant decline in footwork and distance management as “King Tug” turned up the pressure. Someone with a high work rate and a strong technical base behind it could give him some real issues.
Not convinced Magsayo fits the bill, though. Decent power and speed can’t make up for his lack of a cohesive offense and inability to fight off the back foot. Russell can theoretically win this in either direction; on the retreat, he’s too fast and sharp for Magsayo to land that left hook of his without getting pelted with jabs and straight lefts. On the attack, there’s not a ton stopping him from recreating Julio Ceja’s successes and tattooing Magsayo’s midsection with high-speed combinations. Unless Russell’s legs have finally given out on him, he cruises past “Magnifico” without issue. Russell UD-12