Gary Russell Jr.'s Blue Print: Tune Up, take Leo Santa Cruz's title in unification bout, move up to fight Tank Davis

By G. Leon


Greg Leon: What's the latest and greatest with the WBC featherweight champion? When can we expect you back in the ring? Gary Russell Jr: "We're trying to schedule something for April 27th. I'm supposed to be back in the ring relatively soon and this is supposed to be a tune-up for Leo Santa Cruz. Me personally, I don't feel I need a tune-up and I don't want a tune-up. The WBC had made Leo the mandatory challenger a couple of months ago, but he decided he wanted a stay busy fight before he did and he fought a month or so ago, but because of that I have to defend my title by a certain point and I'm going to use this opportunity to keep my teeth sharp and then we're going to get back in there with Leo some time over the summer."
GL: You've been the WBC featherweight champion for nearly four years and have only made three defenses, are you embracing the activity that will come with the stay busy fight because you haven't been the most active fighter?
Gary Russell Jr: "It's bittersweet. I haven't been active because none of these fighters want to get in the ring with me. None of them are in a rush to get in the ring with me. I've been competing against all of the guys that none of the other champions have wanted to face, that's what's been going on. I'm definitely embracing it though, it was refreshing to get the JoJo Diaz fight. It was great to be in there with another undefeated young fighter who wasn't afraid to put it all on the line. He was willing to fight and bring his best, unfortunately for him his best wasn't good enough. I always welcome all the challenges, but like I said these guys haven't been in a rush to get in the ring with me. At the end of the day we get paid based off our ability to produce and their ability to produce is very slim when they get into the ring with Mr. Gary Russell Jr."
GL: How do you feel about the proposed unification with WBA champion Leo Santa Cruz?
GR: "I've been calling for this fight for the last three years. I beat Leo Santa Cruz in the amateurs. I was a 2008 Olympian and he wasn't because he couldn't get past me. My game has improved much more than his has since I was in the Olympics. I'm better, I'm faster, I'm stronger, I'm smarter. With a lot of these guys what you see is what you get. Leo fights very much the same way he did when he was an amateur. I feel as though anybody could be good at their profession, but you have to have the ability to be versatile and do more than one thing. With Leo what you see is what you get. He's a rock-em, sock-em robot and when we fight it won't go the twelve round duration."
GL: Oh ok, so he doesn't go the distance.
GR: "Nope."
GL: How do you offset his activity?
GR: "He's slow. He's flat footed...
GL: (cutting in) And if he had a hard time finding Carl Frampton, he's not touching you.
GR: "You know speaking of Carl Frampton, this is another guy who did an interview and said that I'm the best featherweight in the world hands down. And it's funny because these are some of the tactics these guys use, he fought and was supposed to be in a WBC elimination bout, and mind you he moved up from 122 to 126 and he came in over weight which disqualified him from fighting me. He won the fight, but couldn't fight me and these are some of the tactics these guys use to not get in the ring with me."
GL: Are you confident this Santa Cruz fight will happen? Are you concerned based on some of the tactics you've been describing to where you won't believe the fight is happening until the bell rings?
GR: "I'm getting confident that the fight is going to happen. I think the fans are demanding the fight. First it was just me who wanted the fight, but now the fans and everyone else are starting to ask some questions. Now the fans are asking why is it that they keep on recycling the same fighters? Why is he fighting Abner Mares two or three times? Why does he keep taking these lower level fights when another (PBC) champion is willing to unify the belts with you? I talked to Al Haymon and he pretty much said that it's a fight that he will look to make for later this year. And that's not the only fight I plan on taking. After I fight Leo I plan on moving up in weight to 130 and challenging (Miguel) Berchelt or Gervonta Tank Davis, it doesn't matter to me, but if they don't want to fight they're going to have to get out of my way."
GL: You've been carrying 126 for a decade now. Do you still make the weight easily?
GR: "Man look I'm a professional. This is my job, this is my occupation. When you're having issues making weight that speaks volumes of how you conduct yourself in your work. I can carry 126 as easily as I can carry 130 or 135."
GL: As a seasoned veteran you know there's no such thing as a perfect fighter. As this point of your career what part of your game are you still looking to improve on?
GR: "I feel like I'm growing. I'm growing and honestly I do feel like I'm closer to a perfect fighter than anybody else in the sport of boxing today. I don't think there's another fighter who has the speed, the punching power, the ring IQ and the overall package that I have. You might have a guy who got a little pop but really lacks the handspeed, or he's got the handspeed and pop, but he doesn't have the defensive discipline. In order to be good at anything I think you have to be good at all elements. I could be 100% efficient fighting up close in a phonebooth and still look just as sharp as I would if I was on my toes dancing and boxing for the duration of the fight. I think that's what makes a difference in boxing, your versatility and Leo only brings one thing to the table. But I never really focus on any of my opponents because I know that as long as I'm the best Gary Russell Jr I can be, there's nothing anybody could bring in the ring that I haven't seen before."
GL: What did you think of Leo's last fight?
GR: "I didn't watch the fight, but I'm pretty sure it was more of the same you usually get from him."
GL: Is your right hand all good now?
GR: "It's good and ready to punch somebody else in the face."
GL: Is April 27th concrete or being ironed out?
GR: "It's still being ironed out, but we're on the tail end of everything right now. I have to defend the title between April and May, that's the time frame we're looking at."
GL: Closing thoughts.
GR: "Stay tuned because fireworks are sure to come. We've got the ability to fluctuate in weight, I plan to move up in weight. To a lot of people that don't know, this is a fun fact, me and Deontay Wilder are now the longest reigning champions in boxing and I'm not giving up my belt anytime soon." [Editor's note: Keith Thurman won his WBA welterweight title a few weeks before Russell won his WBC featherweight title; Terence Crawford and Vasiliy Lomachenko have been champions longer but has held different titles].

Send questions and comments to: