November 15, 2012

KO Digest Spotlight On Boxing's Up and Comers - Gary Russell Jr.

Top Prospect Russell Jr goes to 21-0
By Terry Strawson - Gary Russell Jr is an American featherweight who, fighting out of a southpaw stance, has compiled a 21-0 record with 13 victories coming by stoppage. He is a former US Olympian, two-time National Champion, and a Bronze Medalist at the 2005 World Amateur Games.

Born on June 5th 1988 in Capitol Heights, MD, just like Sugar Ray Leonard, Russell Jr was - under the guidance of his father and trainer Gary Sr - readying himself for this stage since the tender age of seven. His arrival at this point in his professional career is a testament to his confidence, composure in the ring, and his blistering combinations.

Having Al Haymon as an advisor hasn't hurt either.

Russell made his debut in the professional ranks with a win over Antonio Reyes in 2009 and has not looked back since. Fighting six or seven times a year, up until this year, he has dispatched of 13 of his foes by KO and those fortunate enough to stay on their feet were completely out-pointed and out-classed en route to comfortable decision victories for Russell.

Having already been named the 2011 Prospect of the Year by Sports Illustrated, ESPN and by The Ring Magazine - we may be a little late in branding him a prospect at this point. However, there is no doubting that the real challenges await in 2013.

In the ring Russell Jr is impressive. There is a confidence and a swagger that transcends his opponents. His jab is snappy and his combinations crisp. It is not unusual to see Russell throw, and land, four and five punch combinations. He is widely regarded to possess the fastest hands in boxing today.

Russell KO's Castaneda
His showing this past weekend against Roberto Castaneda (20-3-1) is a perfect example of what he brings, and will continue to bring, to the table. His confidence borders on, but does not cross, arrogance and his vast amateur background enables him to perform with minimum fuss. He is permanently 'on his feet' and although not considered to be a devastating puncher his knockout of Castaneda was as emphatic as any I've ever seen.

Speed kills. At times it's breathtaking.

Ask Castaneda and Heriberto Ruiz.

Late last year, in arguably his most impressive outing to date, Russell Jr knocked out the well traveled Heriberto Ruiz (47-12-2) in the very first round of their fight at the US Bank Arena in Cincinnati, OH. Despite sharing a ring with the likes of Eric Morel, Rico Ramos and Rafael Marquez amongst others Ruiz appeared nervous as the opening round played out. Midway through he appeared to settle down a touch and as he looked to counter a Russell attack he was caught flush on the chin by a tightly delivered right-hook that sent him stiff as a board to the canvas. The Castaneda knockout was eerily similar and equally as chilling.

Can he do it against the elite in the 126 lb limit? Probably.

"I think by the end of 2013, after three or four more fights, I’ll get my shot at the 126-pound title. People don’t think of me as a hard hitter but I was known as a power puncher in the amateurs. I had a hand injury early in my pro career, but I’m 100 percent healthy now."

Next year should provide definitive answers. With WBA champion Chris John fighting primarily close to home in Indonesia and IBF belt holder Billy Dib lacking the name recognition in America, we should expect to see him challenge either Daniel Ponce De Leon or Orlando Salido for their versions of the featherweight crown.

Mikey Garcia, another highly touted American featherweight, more than likely brings more risk than reward to the table at this juncture in their respective careers but with both youngsters in favor with the major networks of Showtime and HBO that fight cannot be ruled out. And what a fight it would be.

Russell Jr's list of potential opponents goes on. Jhonny Gonzalez, JuanMa Lopez, Rafael Marquez and Celestino Caballero are all still a threat and viable options. Better still, Nonito Donaire, Guillermo Rigondeaux, Abner Mares and Yuriorkis Gamboa are all in close enough proximity to be on the radar in the not too distant future.

The possibilities are endless for Russell Jr and at 24 years of age he certainly has time on his side. His natural talent and abilities are beyond question and his hand-speed is unrivaled. He certainly has all the tools to become a permanent fixture in his division and beyond. With more and more of the spotlight being afforded to the lighter weight classes it will be interesting to see just how far Russell Jr can go.

Overall Rating: A-

Written by Terry Strawson - exclusively for KO Digest 
Photos by Tom Casino/SHOWTIME