Russell taking step toward greatness

Featherweight boxer Gary Russell Jr. taking next step toward greatness

Washington DC native “Mr.” Gary Russell Jr. (19-0, 11 KOs) takes on fellow featherweight contender Christopher “Huracan” Perez (23-2, 14 KOs) on the undercard of the Cory Spinks/Cornelius Bundrage card Saturday night. The Showtime-produced event also will feature Cuban sharpshooter Erislandy Lara facing off against Freddy Hernandez.

Considered by some as the 2011 prospect of the year, Russell is a two-time US national amateur champion who has grown up wearing boxing gloves. By the age of 5, the young upstart was attending fight cards with his dad — a former pro fighter who doubles as his trainer — and hopping into the ring to perform impromptu exhibitions, dazzling fight-goers and professionals alike with his impressive shadowboxing routines.

By 7 years of age, Russell made his amateur debut, albeit with help from his parents altering his age by one year on the official forms. Russell went on to win a National Golden Gloves championship (he concluded his amateur career with an outstanding record of 230 wins against 11 defeats) and eventually fought his way to the Olympic trials for the 2008 Beijing Games.

Russell lost his initial qualification bout, but he battled back to earn the bantamweight spot on the US team (a feat in US Olympic history only accomplished by three other exemplary fighters: Roy Jones Jr., Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Evander Holyfield). Unfortunately, Russell was unable to compete as the drain down to the 119-pound bantamweight limit proved a measure too far for the young fighter. An exhausted and utterly dehydrated Russell fainted ahead of his scheduled weigh-in.

Having his Olympic dreams dashed and not having a further desire to continue fighting for free, Russell turned professional in January 2009.

The 24-year-old southpaw comes across as affable, honest and very hard-working. It’s not a big surprise considering he comes from a fighting family; Russell has five brothers all named Gary, four of whom are boxers (his father’s name is also Gary).

The Maryland-based fighter is blessed not only with a pair of incredibly fast hands, but his footwork and defense are equally exceptional and mature well beyond his age. Russell can fight in the pocket or on the outside and has shown a special aptitude for accurate combination punching.

Correct body mechanics can go a very long way in boxing (a sport occasionally riddled with arm-punchers and flat-footed challengers), and Russell appears to have his craft down pat — he generates his power from his hips and through correct placement of his feet and legs.

As with most Al Haymon-managed fighters, Russell has been placed on the path of least resistance. That is not to say, however, that he fights to the level of his opponents. Russell has been registering one impressive performance after another, sometimes fighting as many as six and seven times a year.

Critics would point to the fact that Russell has been fed a steady diet of schlubs and flunkies with mostly losing ledgers, and they would be partly correct. But the level of his opposition is being increased gradually and, considering he’s been professional for only four years, the future looks bleak for some of the other standouts at featherweight.

Russell looks to be a legitimate gem cutting a swath through a field of cubic zirconium. There are, however, several interesting fights that are possible down the road for the undefeated young master (providing he keeps his current winning pace), including a possible showdown with former champion Juan Manuel Lopez, the rugged Orlando Salido or even the Cuban dynamo Yuriorkis Gamboa.

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