5 Fighters Gary Russell Jr. Should Consider as His Next Opponent
Gary Russell Jr. (22-0, 13 KO’s) is coming off of a dominant boxing victory against Vyacheslav Gusev (20-3, 5 KO’s) on March 2, 2013. Despite Russell Jr.’s fractured left hand—which he suffered in the fourth or fifth round—Gusev was only able to land 33 punches, which are the fewest landed punches ever recorded in a 10-round fight in CompuBox’s 28-year history (per BoxingScene.com).
Russell Jr.’s performance versus Gusev—while dominant—highlights the fact that Gary needs to step up his level of opposition. After the Gusev fight, Russell Jr. spoke with Boxing 360 and admitted that he has skills that he hasn’t even gotten a chance to display yet.
“I haven’t been pushed to the point where I’ve had to take it into second or third gear. I haven’t had to push through adversity.”
Although some fans and pundits believe Russell Jr. has been stuck at the prospect level for too long, Gary firmly stated to Boxing 360 that he is happy with the pace at which his career is moving. Having said that, perhaps the most intriguing bit of information that we learned after the Gusev fight was Russell Jr.'s wish list of future opponents, which includes Juan Manuel Lopez, Daniel Ponce de Leon and Yuriorkis Gamboa (per ESPN).
It's clear that any of these three fighters would be a tremendous step up in competition for Gary Russell Jr.
Though he’s not included in The Ring junior lightweight top 10 ratings and ranks a lowly 25 on the BoxRec.com featherweight list, Russell Jr. still believes he is ready for the top fighters in and around the featherweight division.
How Russell Jr. heals from his most recent injury may determine whether or not his handlers let him take a giant leap in competition and challenge for a belt this year. Assuming he can get back in the ring in a few months, these are the top five boxers Gary Russell Jr. should consider fighting next.
Daniel Ponce de Leon
Daniel Ponce de Leon is set to face Abner Mares in May. Mares is one of the best 122-pound fighters in the world, and although he is moving up in weight to face Ponce de Leon for his WBC featherweight title, Daniel certainly has his work cut out for him.
If Ponce de Leon can come out on top versus Mares, Golden Boy may decide that Russell Jr. is indeed ready for his first title shot against the heavy-handed Mexican. Ponce de Leon has fought some of the best fighters at featherweight and super featherweight and would provide an upgrade in skill level for Gary Russell Jr.
Many folks may remember the way Ponce de Leon served as a stern test for Adrien Broner, pushing "The Problem" to new limits in 2011. Ponce de Leon has loads of determination with big punching power to match, but would provide minimal risk for Russell Jr. because of his less-than-stellar speed.
If Ponce de Leon thought Broner was fast, wait until he gets a taste of Gary's speed. In this matchup, Russell Jr.'s quickness and reflexes would definitely be on display against a more plodding fighter in Ponce de Leon.
Juan Carlos Burgos
Juan Carlos Burgos got a raw deal in his last fight versus Rocky Martinez. “Mini” Burgos had to settle for a draw and was denied an immediate rematch by the WBO. Martinez is now set to face fellow Top Rank fighter Diego Magdaleno in April.
With Martinez moving on, Burgos is now looking for a high-caliber opponent to match up against. Burgos would be a viable test for Gary Russell Jr. because he has a high work rate and he is an accurate power puncher. These characteristics could give Burgos a fighting chance against the speedy southpaw, but it’s important to remember that Gary is no stranger to facing hard-nosed Mexican fighters that come straight forward.
In his fight with Roberto Castaneda, Russell Jr. took away his opponent’s plan to come forward early and produced a vicious knockout in Round 3. While Burgos represents a higher class opponent than Castaneda, the similar styles could mean another impressive performance by Gary Russell Jr.
Billy Dib is coming off of a tough decision loss to Evgeny Gradovich. Dib not only surrendered his IBF featherweight championship, but also lost some credibility for 50 Cent's fledgling company, SMS Promotions.
If he doesn't get an immediate rematch with Gradovich, Dib needs a recognizable name to bounce back against. A Dib vs. Russell Jr. fight would be beneficial for the winner and give each fighter a legitimate name on their resume, regardless of the outcome.
According to Aus-Boxing, Russell Jr. had an offer to fight Dib in 2012, but his handlers pulled out of the proposed bout, citing that Gary was not yet ready for the title fight. Even though efforts to put on a fight fell through, there doesn't seem to be any bad blood between the two sides. The fact that Dib is not affiliated with Top Rank makes this fight easier to put together than a Gary Russell Jr. vs. Juan Manuel Lopez fight.
The fight could potentially be an exciting one from a fan's perspective. Since going back to Australia to refine his style with a brand new trainer, Dib has become a more entertaining fighter and could push the action versus Russell Jr. To date, no fighter has been able to bring the fight to Gary with much success.
In December of 2012, Dan Rafael of ESPN reported that Golden Boy Promotions was considering Mexican veteran and former WBC featherweight titlist Jhonny Gonzalez as a possible opponent for Gary Russell Jr. in April.
Gonzalez is coming off of a unanimous decision win over Eusebio Osejo in February, where he was knocked down in Round 4. Jhonny is now looking for some revenge versus Daniel Ponce de Leon, who took his title via a technical eighth-round stoppage in September of 2012.
Before losing to Ponce de Leon, Gonzalez had a 12-fight winning streak that included 11 knockouts, so we know he has power. The biggest knock on Gonzalez is his inability to take a punch, which would be detrimental against Gary Russell Jr. Per Ryan Songalia of The Ring, Ponce de Leon's manager—Frank Espinoza—stated that while Jhonny Gonzalez "is an excellent technician," he doesn't have a great chin.
Golden Boy could decide to put Gonzalez in versus Russell Jr. and have the winner face the victor of Mares vs. Ponce de Leon in September. A fight versus Gonzalez could potentially be a great way to show off Russell Jr.'s skills against a name opponent as well as get him more battle tested for even better opposition.
Juan Manuel Lopez
Juan Manuel Lopez was the first fighter that Gary Russell Jr. requested to face when he spoke to Jim Gray after defeating Vyacheslav Gusev, and with good reason. Juan Ma has a solid fan following and even after dropping two fights at the hands of Orlando Salido, he still has a bright future in boxing.
Juan Ma's aggressive and sometimes reckless style is most likely the main reason Russell Jr. would really like to "get his hands" on the Puerto Rican slugger, as Gary said on Showtime Boxing after the Gusev fight.
Juan Ma is one of the most exciting, crowd pleasing fighters in the game today. For as long as it would last, Lopez vs. Russell Jr. could provide some serious fireworks. Unfortunately for Russell Jr., Bob Arum recently said—per Dan Rafael of ESPN—that a Mikey Garcia vs. Juan Manuel Lopez bout is in the works.
Per Ryan Burton of BoxingScene.com, Russell Jr. says that his camp "will look to make that fight (versus Lopez) happen." But, even if Lopez versus Garcia falls through, it's hard to imagine Top Rank giving a young fighter promoted by Golden Boy a chance to make a name for himself.
Who Gary Russell Jr. Isn't Ready for Yet
The fact that Gary Russell Jr. wants to face some of the biggest names in boxing says a lot about the young fighter’s toughness. Whether or not Al Haymon and Golden Boy decide to throw Russell Jr. in with the best junior featherweights and featherweights at this point will say even more about them.
At this point in time, Russell Jr. is not ready to step into the ring versus fighters like Yuriorkis Gamboa, Mikey Garcia, Abner Mares or even Adrien Broner—who Russell Jr. said is "one dimensional, with a lot of kinks in his armor" in an interview with EsNewsReporting.com.
Russell Jr. would really benefit from more 10-round bouts that actually go past Round 3. If he can fight at least two more times this year—starting with one of the fighters on this list—he may be ready to take on the likes of Gamboa or Broner sometime in 2014.