Gary Russell Jr. is an unbeaten featherweight who is one of the most promising fighters in the sport. He may have boxing's fastest hands, and he's developed into a quality overall contender.
But as Steve Jobs used to say, there's one more thing.
And that thing is a doozy. It's so significant, Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer shouldn't put him in a title fight against new champion Jhonny Gonzalez, no matter how strong the urge.
The reason? Simple. TBA.
TBA seems like it's Russell's most frequent opponent. No elite prospect has had this many free passes this far into his career. Russell (23-0, 13 KOs) rarely fights anyone of note and has regularly feasted upon opponents who are second-tier, at best. He might be good enough to defeat Gonzalez, who stunned Abner Mares to win the WBC belt Saturday in Carson, Calif., with a first-round technical knockout, but that misses the point.
A guy who essentially refuses to face a contender and who hasn't fought anyone of any note as a pro doesn't deserve to be rewarded with a championship match.
Russell defeated Juan Ruiz on Aug. 9 in Indio, Calif., in his last bout. But Ruiz came into the fight having lost six in a row and nine of his last 10. That's not the kind of opponent one should need to beat to make it into a title match.
But King Richard seems ready to anoint Russell as the contender-in-waiting at featherweight. Russell, of course, is promoted by Golden Boy, as is Mares. Golden Boy received three options on Gonzalez when he upset Mares, but Golden Boy isn't his primary promoter. Thus, it's clear that Golden Boy would prefer to get the belt back in its hands.
Gary Russell wants a big fight, that's a big fight. I would love to make that fight, maybe November or December. We'll see when Jhonny wants to fight; we'll talk to his promoter.
Russell hasn't wanted a big fight up to this point in his career. There's little doubt that he'll win one at some point, and he may develop into one of boxing's best overall champions when he finally steps up. Russell is clearly a future star.
Title shots are doled far too easily these days, but this is kind of ridiculous. It only makes sense to force a fighter to face, and defeat, someone a bit tougher than TBA in order to fight for the title.
Russell was a decorated amateur who lost an opportunity to compete in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing when he got ill at the Games. He's been extraordinarily impressive as a pro, albeit against less-than-stellar opposition. And when he was offered a major fight earlier this year, against veteran Daniel Ponce de Leon -- A bout I believe Russell would have handily won -- he passed.
Gonzalez is an example of the type of guy who deserves a title shot. He went on the road and never took the easy route. Few were expecting him to beat Mares, but he got the opportunity and made something of it.
Golden Boy should at least make Russell face a Top 10 featherweight before giving him the title opportunity. The fans will respect the belts more and, thus, the fighters who own them, if the boxers are forced to defeat deserving opponents in order to earn them.
That seems to be common sense, but the belts are a commodity that make money for promoters. When they get one, they don't often like to give them up. And when they lose one unexpectedly, as Golden Boy did with Mares on Saturday, they want to get it back as quickly as possible.
Boxing is a business, and promoters have to make money to stay afloat. But handing out title shots like they're swag for attending a convention is the quickest way to make a belt meaningless.