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A break in the action
Gary Russell Jr. gave the type of performance expected from a two-time national champion.
He opened his second straight bantamweight title defense in the quarterfinals of last week’s U.S. Boxing Championships at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs with authority. After receiving a bye in the tournament’s first two rounds, the D.C. native pummeled Miami’s Jessy Cruz 37-14 in four rounds last Tuesday.
But after dropping Cruz twice in the second round using a vicious double-right-hook, Russell, 19, experienced the unexpected. The 5-foot-5, 119-pound Russell sent another blow to Cruz’s head in the third round and immediately felt a shot of intense pain in his right hand.
It had happened again.
In October, Russell broke his right hand — between the first and second knuckles — in the championship bout at the National Police Athletic League (PAL) tournament, which he won. Russell, who boasts a 41-1 record, stopped training for two months to heal, then began preparing for May’s national Golden Gloves tournament.
But after feeling some mild discomfort in his hand, Russell and his father — also his trainer — decided to pass on the Golden Gloves to save the boxer for the U.S. championships, where he needed a top-eight finish to maintain his spot in the Olympic team trials. But the setback they hoped to avoid by skipping the Golden Gloves resurfaced in Colorado Springs.
“I hit him somewhere on his face, felt the pain and was like, ‘Dang! I did it again.’ ” Russell said an hour after the fight. “It’s like a sore or something. Draw contact and it busts back open. But I had to keep fighting. Boxing’s a violent sport. You’ve gotta suck it up and deal with the pain. Gotta keep your poker face.”
Russell — who in 2005 was named USA Boxing’s athlete of the year and in 2006 ranked first in the nation in his weight class — maintained a strong front in the final round-and-a-half of his fight with Cruz.
A fan favorite, he held the attention of the majority of the 850 spectators watching from the stands of the small gymnasium. The fans cheered lustily, often rising to their feet as Russell continued to pepper Cruz with shots.
The one-handed fighter cruised to victory but immediately sought medical attention from ringside physician George Palmer III. After consulting with his father, Russell leaned strongly toward pulling out of the tournament.
“If this was the Olympic trials, I would keep fighting,” Russell said. “But it’d be silly to keep fighting here and risk further injury when I don’t need to. See, I can bend it, but I can’t totally ball my fist. See how that knuckle slides to the side when I try to make a fist? It’d be nice to win here, but I can’t risk it.”
Russell went to a Colorado Springs clinic for X-rays later that evening and Wednesday morning reported to ringside physician Marilyn Boitano to file an official medical disqualification. By withdrawing on medical disqualification as opposed to pulling out of the tournament and losing on forfeit, Russell remained in the Olympic trials.
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