Extra Points: Big-time Boxing Returns to Atlantic City, NJ
ATLANTIC CITY - WBC featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr. has encountered a number of obstacles while preparing to defend his title against No. 1 contender Mark Magsayo Saturday at Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa.
The latest challenge came Friday afternoon, when he had to lose a half-pound during the weigh-in in order to make the 126-pound limit for the bout. Otherwise, he would have been stripped of the championship he has held for seven years.
He made the weight with room to spare. An hour after checking in at 126.5, he returned to the scale. With New Jersey Athletic Control Board Commissioner Larry Hazzard observing, Russell registered at 125.5.
"I actually weighed myself on a different scale earlier with some food in my hand and I ate a little bit to make sure I was at 126," Russell said Friday. "When I got to this scale, I was a couple ounces over, but it wasn't a problem."
Russell (31-1, 18 KOs), from Capitol Heights, Maryland, is boxing's longest reigning champion. He's held the WBC's belt since 2015.
But Friday's 12-round bout on Showtime Championship Boxing will only be his sixth defense. His last fight was two years ago, when he gained a 12-round decision over Tugstogt Nyambar on Feb. 8, 2020.
Various issues have kep thim out of the ring. Russell, 33, has five younger brothers, who are also named Gary. One of his siblings, Garry Derreke Russell, passes away in December of 2020 from a heart attack at age 26. His father and lifelong trainer, Gary Russell Sr., 62, had his left foot amputated last month due to complications from Diabetes.
As a result, Gary Russell Jr. essentially served as his own trainer in preparation for the fight.
He also recently admitted to "The DAZN Boxing Show" that he suffered an undisclosed injury
"Camp was hectic, man," he said. "There was a lot going on. But at the end of the day, I'm a gladiator and I love what I do. Nothing has come easy for us. This is not unfamiliar territory for me or my family."
Magsayo, a 26-year-old native of The Philippines, is trained by legendary Freddie Roach and is managed by Filipino hero Manny Pacquiao.
He's won three of his last fights by KO/TKO. In his last outing, he stopped Julio Ceja in the 10th round after getting knocked to the canvas himself in the fifth.
"Manny Pacquiao is my idol, ever since I was a kid," Magsayo said. "I started training at 8 years old because of him, so that one day I could become a world champion. And now that opportunity is here and I can't wait. Filipinos are born strong. We are warriors. I'm going to bring that attitude and that mentality into the fight."
This is a comeback of sorts for boxing in Atlantic City and Borgata.
Russell-Magsayo, which is being promoted by TGB Promotions, is the first world title bout held in town since Claressa Shields won the women's WBC and World Boxing Organization welterweight belts by beating Ivana Habazin at Ocean Casino Resort on January 10, 2020. The last time a men's championship fight took place in Atlantic City was November 24, 2018, when World Boxing Association light-heavyweight champ Dmitry Bivol beat Jean Pascal at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
Borgata is getting back in the boxing game after a 15-year hiatus. Its last card was on November 15, 2007, when then-WBO featherweight champ Juan Guzman earned a unanimous decision over Humberto Soto.
PREDICTION: Russell by decision.
PUNCHLINES: Showtime will be showing two other fights, starting at 9 p.m. with a 10-round bout between Nyambayer (12-2, 9 KOs), of Los Angeles by way of Mongolia, and pinch-hitter Sakaria Lukas (25-1, 17 KOs), from Namibia. Lukas is replacing Vic Pasillas, who tested positive for Covid-19. In the 12-round, super-lightweight co-feature, Puerto Rico's Subriel Matias (17-1, 17 KOs) will be try to avenge his only defeat against Petros Anayan (16-2-2, 7 KOs), a native of Armenia who also lives in L.A. He beat Matias via unanimous decision 11 months ago.
Five other fights are scheduled, including a six-round super-welterweight bout between Atlanta's Evan Holyfield (8-0, 6 KOs) and Chris Rollins (5-3-1, 4 KOs), of Charlottesville, Virgina. Holyfield is the son of former heavweight champion Evander Holyfield.
Doors to Borgata's Event Center open at 6 p.m. with the first bout slated for 6:15 p.m. Tickets, priced from $53 to $203, are available through Ticketmaster and at Borgata's box office.