- The Washington Times - Friday, May 19, 2017

Boxing trainer Gary Russell Sr. paused and looked toward his son, Gary Allen.

“Why Gary?” Russell Sr. said, repeating the question posed to him. “I couldn’t think past G. I don’t know. I wasn’t very creative, man.”

Gary Russell Sr. has 11 children, eight of which are boys (six with his wife), all but one named Gary. Six of the boys took up boxing.  

But three of them are professionals in the sport today. For the first time in years, the Russells will box on the same card Saturday at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland.

The card, televised by Showtime, is miles away from their hometown of Capitol Heights.

And of those three, Gary Russell Jr. has been the most successful. The 28-year-old is 27-1 with 16 knockouts and is the World Boxing Council (WBC) featherweight champion. He’s regarded as one of the best featherweight boxers in the world and is set to make his second title defense against Oscar Escandon (25-2, 17 KOs) in Saturday’s main event.

Boxing has always been the outlet for the Russell family to bond, but Russell Jr.’s success has also paved a path for the two other professionals, Gary Antonio and Gary Antuanne.

Gary Antonio, 24, is only 7-0 while Gary Antuanne, 20, is making his professional debut. They’ll fight Jovany Fuentes (7-8) and Josh Ross (2-3-4), respectively.

“Don’t get caught up in the hype,” Russell Jr. said, giving advice to his brothers. “No matter what you whatever you do or whatever decisions you make, you can never please everybody. No matter how good your career has been in your eyes, you will always find someone with something negative to say.”

To date, Russell Jr.’s career has required discipline and tremendous amounts of patience. Since 2015, Russell Jr. has only had one fight per year. He hasn’t fought since April 16, 2016, and went only two rounds when he knocked out Patrick Highland.

Most fighters of Russell’s caliber usually fight at least twice per year, normally three times. Hand injuries and the lack of TV dates have kept Russell out of the ring.

Russell may be the WBC champion, but wants to unify the other title belts in the division. The inactivity, though, hasn’t bothered Russell, who said he enjoyed taking the time to heal from the damage boxing can cause.

His sole loss was to Vasyl Lomachenko, a consensus top five fighter in the world, in 2014. Russell rebounded and stopped Jhonny Gonzalez to become champion in 2015.

“I feel where we are right now is exactly where we are supposed to be,” Russell Jr. said. “Everything is destined accordingly.”

After all, becoming a world champion was never a goal of the Russell family growing up. The Olympics were the ultimate plan, Gary Antonio said.

In 2008, Russell Jr. qualified for the Beijing Olympics as a bantamweight. Russell Jr., however, never got a chance to compete because he failed to make weight and his opponent automatically advanced.

Like his brother, Gary Antuanne also made the Olympics, qualifying for the 2016 games in Rio. Gary Antuanne lost in his third fight in a split decision, one he called a robbery.

The failure to medal motivated each brother.

“I felt like I had to become a world champion to make up for all the people who supported me then,” Russell Jr. said. “I didn’t want them to feel as if their support was in vain for no apparent reason.”

Added Gary Antuanne: “I get to pick up where I’ve left off. It’s been so long since I’ve fought we’ve fought on the same card. I believe we all was amateurs.”

Through the years, Gary Antuanne and Gary Antonio have observed the way Russell Jr. conducts himself. Gary Antonio has seen his brother’s progression in and outside the ring.

“The most maturity I’ve seen in is humbleness,” Gary Antonio said. “Most people make money and it starts to change them. He’s still the same person. He’s a good hearted person. … Everything he does is for his family.”

Russell Jr. is married and has three girls by the ages of 8, 5 and 3. He owns multiple properties, but one of them is on the same street as his parents, so he can be closer to home.

When the fights are over, Russell Sr. will be glad to be done. On top of training his three sons, Russell’s wedding anniversary was this week. His birthday is Saturday. The best way to celebrate, he said, is by going home and going to bed.

But Russell Jr. will do his best to help out his dad. The featherweight champion plans to be in the corner of his brothers on fight night, even though he has to prepare for Escandon.

The willingness to help comes from the discipline taught by his father, who he calls his superhero.

“As long as I’m on this planet, I’ll always bear responsibility for my younger brothers,” Russell Jr. said.



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