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Magsayo Decisions Russell, Becomes Featherweight Champion

No-one has ever penned a book of boxing’s clichés and phrases.

One prominent line that does exist yet doesn’t depending on who you speak to is ‘Shake off the ring rust’. Gary Russell Jr’s career should be coated in it such has been his inactivity over the years.

And last night at the Borgata Hotel Casino in Atlantic City boxing’s Mr M.I.A was finally found, caught, and deprived of his WBC featherweight title by Mark Magsayo thus ending the current longest championship reign in the sport.

Since March 2015 the crafty lefty has held the green and gold at 126lbs defending it five times with guile and style that should have been witnessed far more often. Coming into this fight the American was not only dealing with his critics once again but also his father’s health problems and living a life without one of his four brothers, Gary Dereke Russell, who died in December 2020.

Come fight night boxing’s hand of sympathy is nowhere to be seen, however. The man in the other corner can have no time or thought for his opponent’s problems. His job is to pile on the misery and Magsayo did just that.

From early on Russell did not look like a man who was supposed to win and go on to fight another two times this year as he had remarked in the build-up. His Filipino mandatory challenger unsettled his more senior and experienced foe as often as he could. Leaning in with one-two combinations to force Russell into retreat, building a target marker to the champion’s body and upsetting the apple cart with all-round aggression posed problems that proved too much on the night.

A turning point came in the fourth round. The previous nine minutes saw Russell pop out his jab keeping Magsayo at bay in the first session, but the challenger came to fight in the second with a neat uppercut to the body and in the third aimed to corner his man at any opportunity.

However, 30 seconds into round four Magsayo ventured in with a winging right hand which caught Russell but in the split second after fans would have seen his right arm sag, Russell winced conclusively indicating
that all was not well. The cause is believed to be a torn tendon in his shoulder, the now deposed champion would say post-fight that he hurt his shoulder two weeks ago.

Whether Magsayo sensed the opening is irrelevant. The 26-year-old kept up his tactics of pressure, pressure and more pressure while the gifted Russell did everything he could to fight with one arm, his right bordering on useless for the rest of the fight.

To his credit Russell controlled matters in the fifth as Magsayo seemed to turn his engine down, saving his output for rounds to come.

A Magsayo right hand in the sixth round moved Russell to the left and allowed the underdog to land an uppercut which could have won punch of the night, not that there were many contenders.

Another right, this time down the pipe of the weakened American was a punch that demonstrated Magsayo’s confidence. The upset was on.

Russell would catch Magsayo coming in on occasions and showed wonderful head movement to move out of Dodge City, but it didn’t stop the pressure, it merely dialled it back for a few seconds.

The remaining rounds were a match-up of Magsayo’s desire to unsettle the champion against Russell’s pot-shotting which wasn’t enough to retain his title.

Multiple feints from Russell were easy on the eye late on as he looked to force Magsayo into a mistake but in the 10th that tactic was pushed over by a round winning punch from the man from the landlocked Province of Rizal.

Boxing’s master of Maryland was down on this scorecard, but ringside the officials were witnessing something different, alarmingly. Russell raised his hands with 90 seconds to go, a show of defiance and false belief that he was in charge and still winning the fight.

As Magsayo looked to put an exclamation point on his performance the skillset of Russell had the last word with a lightning left hand and a brilliant double lead at the end.

Magsayo had surely done enough but judge Lynne Carter’s scorecard was read out as a 114-114 draw, but the majority decision went the right way. Mark Constentino and Henry Grant scored the fight 115-113 which meant ring announcer Jimmy Lennon could utter the words, ‘And the new…’

Filipino boxing was one man less last year when Manny Pacquiao departed the scene after 26 years, 72 fights and multiple titles. Now a nation that has given us the likes of Pancho Villa, Ceferino Garcia, Gabriel ‘Flash’ Elorde and Nonito Donaire has someone new to celebrate and follow.

The headlines may be about Russell’s inactivity and injury but it’s all inconsequential to Mark Magsayo, his family and team.

He is the new WBC featherweight champion and deservedly so.

“This is my dream come true,” Magsayo told Showtime’s Jim Gray. “Ever since I was a kid, this was my dream. I’m so proud that I’m a champion now. Thank you so much to the Filipino fans for the support.”

“Congratulations, Mark Magsayo on your first world championship,” Pacquiao tweeted afterwards. “Thank you for bringing honour to our country by becoming the latest Filipino world boxing champion. Welcome to the club.”

As for Russell, well he will have to show up far more often and not be the butt of many a boxing fan’s joke.

“Please believe that I will be back,” he said.