Gary Russell Jr. Q&A: ‘None of the other world champions wanted to fight me’
By Ian Aldous: On Saturday May 19th, Gary Russell Jr. (28-1) will defend his WBC world featherweight championship against undefeated contender, Joseph ‘Jo Jo’ Diaz (26-0), on home turf at the MGM National Harbor in Maryland. It will be part of a split-site Premier Boxing Champions broadcast, live on Showtime, that will also feature WBC world light-heavyweight champion, Adonis Stevenson defending his title against Badou Jack in Canada. Earlier this week, Russell Jr. spoke to me over the phone whilst working in the gym with his brothers (who are both fighting on the May 19th undercard).
IA: Joseph Diaz is the first undefeated fighter you’ve faced since, I believe, your second professional fight. What sort of a test will he provide for you on May 19th?
GR: I’m not sure. I think my biggest test is preparing myself to the best of my ability. I never really worry about my opponent much. The only thing that really matters is preparing myself to the best of my ability. If I do that, I really don’t care about my opponent. What I can say is, I have to take my hat off to him. He already basically made the statement that I am the best fighter in the division and none of the other fighters in the division want to even get in the ring with me. The fact that he’s willing to (get in the ring with me) speaks volumes about his character.
IA: Despite the fact this is a mandatory title defence, you stated in an interview earlier this year that you had doubts the fight would ever get made as you felt he and his team would be out of their depth against you.
GR: No, no, no. I think he’s a young fighter that wants to provide a sense of stability for himself and his family. One of the best ways to do it is to challenge one of the biggest guys in the division. I feel as though the fight was definitely going to take place. Golden Boy was willing to make it happen, I was willing to make it happen, none of the other world champions wanted to fight me, so I’m stuck to just dealing with my mandatory challengers.
IA: Due to the fact that you’re both Olympians, with your high-level amateur backgrounds, do you feel he’ll have been schooled and trained in a similar fashion to you?
GR: Not at all. Nowhere near.
IA: Since winning your WBC championship in 2015, you’ve defended your title once in each calendar year since. Why has your career seemed to slow since you won a world title? Is it because you’re avoided, like you say?
GR: Of course. Guys are definitely avoiding me to the best of their ability. These guys have definitely been avoiding me (but) we’ve been getting compensated handsomely whenever we do compete. The fact that I don’t fight very often gives me a chance to preserve my body. It’s no secret that I had hand injuries earlier in my professional career. The fact that I’m not competing as much gives me the chance to preserve my body. I’m feeling good, I’m in shape and I’m ready.
IA: Also, in your two title defences, you were particularly dominant against Patrick Hyland and Oscar Escandon. Do you think those guys were a little out of their depth facing you?
GR: I think that pretty much anyone that steps in the ring with me is out of their depth facing me (laughs).
IA: Do you feel you have the quickest hands at 126lbs?
GR: Of course, and this is the funny thing. The only reason why everyone started saying that I had the fastest hands in the sport of boxing was because I was knocking people out in the early part of my career and people knew me to be a boxer/puncher in the amateurs. When the gloves got smaller, it started hurting my hands more and it got to the point where I was so much better than these guys that I was like, you know what, I can go ahead and just box these guys and throw fast punches without having to hurt my hands. This is how I became the fastest boxer in the sport.
IA: The featherweight division is stacked at the moment and just hours before your fight, in England, Lee Selby will defend his IBF featherweight belt against Josh Warrington. Can you see yourself one day unifying with the winner of this bout, or would they avoid you?
GR: I’m not sure (sighs). We tried to get a unification bout with Lee Selby before and it never took place. The fans have to understand that we don’t have a regular 9-5. Our occupation is based upon the ability to produce wins and to be exciting. It’s very difficult for these fighters and these managers and these coaches to get in the ring with Mr. Gary Russell Jr knowing that their livelihood is on the line whenever they compete against us. It takes away from their ability to provide for their family. These managers, who invest a lot of money into these fighters, they don’t feel as though it’s in their best interest for their fighter to get in the ring with me because it’ll mess up their investment. It’s a very costly risk for them to take, so a lot of the other world champions are avoiding me. They’re not trying to fight me and I’m stuck with competing against my mandatory challengers. I’m pleased that I do have a fighter that’s going to get in the ring and bring his best and, as a world champion, I wouldn’t want anything less. I just got finished doing some good sparring. I’m in the process of watching my younger brothers spar right now. They’re also going to be on the card, Gary Antuanne, as well as, Gary Antonio.
IA: Are they going to be as good as you?
GR: Man, they supposed to be! We believe in a dynasty and my definition of a dynasty is information being passed down from generation to generation. I believe when my younger brothers get to the point that I am in my career, they should definitely be better than what I am. That’s what we’re shooting for, we’re shooting for perfection.
IA: This will also be another chance for you to defend your world title on home turf. How much different is it fighting at home as opposed to having to hit the road?
GR: I think the only difference honestly is the fact that the fans from my home town, the mail lady, the mail man, the people in the neighbourhood that I went to elementary school then high school with, they’ll have the opportunity to get in their car and drive maybe twenty minutes down the street and be a part of greatness. When you tend to magnify the event then you lose sight of what really, really matters. At the end of the day, as long as we’ve got a ring, I don’t care where we fight – the objective is the same. Like I said, the only difference is my family and friends get to be there when the event takes place.
IA: On June 9th, Abner Mares battles Leo Santa Cruz in a rematch of their epic from 2015. Is it likely that the winner of that will want to challenge you? Or is it a case of what we spoke about earlier, and guys simply avoiding you?
GR: I would love for that fight to happen. Al Haymon, he’s in control of that. He has (manages) Leo Santa Cruz, I believe, and Abner Mares. They’ll be fighting after I compete, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have a unification bout. If we don’t get a unification bout after that then I plan on keeping my title at 126lbs and we’re going to be hunting names down at that point. I don’t mind if we have to move up in weight or catch-weight to fight any of these guys that the fans feel is a great fighter. We’re willing to go ahead and hunt these guys down to prove that we’re the best in the sport of boxing. A lot of these guys aren’t willing to move up and down in weight and fight bigger guys – they’re not willing to do that. They stick to where they’re comfortable at. We’re willing to fluctuate all the way from 140lbs back to 126lbs to compete against whoever it’s necessary for us to compete against.
Tickets for Russell Jr vs. Diaz on Saturday May 19th are available at ticketmaster.com, or if you can’t make it, then watch it live on Showtime.