WBC featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr., who faces mandatory challenger Mark Magsayo on Jan. 22 in Atlantic City, N.J., tells Yahoo Sports' Kevin Iole he's ready to entertain in the ring after not fighting in nearly two years.
KEVIN IOLE: Hey, folks. Kevin Iole at Yahoo Sports here, on January 22. Gary Russell Jr. will return. He's going to defend his WBC title against Mark Magsayo on SHOWTIME. Gary, it's been a while since we've seen you in the ring, are you excited to finally get back in there and throw hands?
GARY RUSSELL JR.: Of course, of course I'm ready. I'm excited to get back in there and throw some punches, display my skill set to the fans, man, and the people out there that truly love the sport of boxing.
KEVIN IOLE: You have some of the fastest hands in the sport. We're going to say now you're getting to that age, Gary, 33 years old, I'm not saying you're old, especially compared to me, but--
GARY RUSSELL JR.: [LAUGHS]
KEVIN IOLE: --when you get to 33 years old, do you have to rely on things more than just your reflexes and your natural athletic ability now compared to, say, 10 years ago?
GARY RUSSELL JR.: To be honest with you, I've always been an intellectual type of fighter. Speed is one thing, but you can be fast, but don't know how to actually put it together in the right way, you know. So I was always an intellect over athleticism type of fighter. That was always a statement of mind. It's not the biggest, it's not the fastest, it's not the strongest, in most cases it's the smartest--
KEVIN IOLE: Right.
GARY RUSSELL JR.: --who should win the fight. And I think that's where I come in at, you know, I can get it. I get a little bit of it all, I have the hand speed, I have the punching power, and I also have the intellect. I think it all plays a part, it's a great blend to have.
KEVIN IOLE: Gary, you know, you have endured a lot of tragedy in your life. Your brother, Devaun, was murdered a number of years ago, and I know your other brother, Gary Boosa, tragically passed away, what, two years ago. But now, you know, I heard the news you said the other day about your father, Gary Sr., and he had his foot amputated. First of all, before we talk about the impact, how is he doing?
GARY RUSSELL JR.: Oh, um, not too good, not too good. He's a warrior though, man, he's a warrior. Like I said, he got his foot amputated, he's definitely-- he's pushing, he's supposed to be back in the hospital now, you know, but he's saying that he's not going to go back in the hospital, he's going to sit and he's going to wait until after the conclusion of my match, and then he's going to check himself back into the hospital.
He felt as though that he missed enough of this training camp. We've been doing the training camp pretty much like this, you know, this is how camp was. If he was in the hospital, I'm still in the gym, I'm still training. We have someone on the outside holding the phone, and so he can see what's going on, if it was something that he seen that he didn't like, or he wanted to add on, he would just tell it to the person who was holding the phone, and they reiterated to me, you know. So it's been a testing camp, we've been trying, but not a problem, no whining, and no complaining.
KEVIN IOLE: Who is going to be the lead person in your corner, because obviously you need somebody to be sitting there and looking for adjustments you need to make, and things to go on. Who's going to be the voice at--
GARY RUSSELL JR.: Honestly, my father is still definitely going to come to the fight, he's still going to try his best to make it. My younger brother, Allen, he's been a great help, you know, and assistance. Rodrigo Mosquera, he would be there as well, you know, the same team would still be there, the team isn't going to switch up. I'm just hoping that my father's health continues to, at least, be the same, you know, and don't get any worse. I don't know, it's been challenging. It's been challenging, man, but we're going to make it happen. I tell people all the time, life is like boxing, you got to keep your chin down and your hands up, because they're going to throw punches at you from all angles, and you've got to be ready to fight when you got to open it.
KEVIN IOLE: Well your father is known in boxing as one of the good guys, and he saved a lot of kids' lives, including probably a lot of your brothers, right, you and your brothers--
GARY RUSSELL JR.: Oh, yeah, oh, yeah.
KEVIN IOLE: --for what he has done. I don't want to ask you this and I don't want to be too dark here, but, you know, you have a brother get murdered, you have another brother that passed away, how difficult was it to keep going on when those things happened? How do you find the motivation to go on when you have that kind of tragedy in your life and people that I know how close you are to your brothers?
GARY RUSSELL JR.: To be honest with you, I was always-- I like to balance whatever adversity I have with forward progression. If I'm having money problems, guess what, I'm going to take the money that I do have and I'm going to invest it into something, you know. If I'm irritated, I'm frustrated with how things is going on at home, maybe me and my wife probably got into it, whatever the situation is, guess what, I'm going to balance it before progression. I'm going to go to the gym, I'm going to go put me some work in, you know. So I tend to use it as fuel, I tend to use it as fuel, and it helps out perfectly. You know, I use it to my benefit.
KEVIN IOLE: It's amazing that you're able to do what you do. Has your current two-year layoff-- has that largely been as a result of Boosa's death, and did you just take that time to mentally recover?
GARY RUSSELL JR.: Um, no, it hasn't. My two-year layoff has been based upon the fact that we could not get a dancing partner. I was supposed to compete the WBC mandated Rey Vargas to be my mandatory challenger about a year ago, and not too long ago, we seen him competing on Canelo's undercard, you know. So a lot of these guys just aren't in a rush to get in the ring to compete against me.
KEVIN IOLE: Now you're fighting a guy, Mark Magsayo, he's coming off a really impressive victory a couple of months ago. You know, he was down early in that fight, he showed a lot of moxie coming back and getting the win. What's your take on Magsayo, what he brings to the table, and what you need to do to beat him?
GARY RUSSELL JR.: Well he's one of Manny Pacquiao's fighters. I think it's safe to say that Pacquiao-- we can call Pacquiao a veteran of the sport, and I believe someone who's been in a sport that long should have an eye on what they consider-- what he consider as talent. He's willing to take the chance with Mark. I think, Mark-- he's young, he's tough, and he's strong, he's going to bring his his physical best. I wish more fighters in the sport would be willing to put it all on the line like Mark is willing to do. But they're not, they wanted to pick and choose who they want to compete against. Mark, he fought his way up the rankings to challenge the champion, not the number one contender, I'm the champion. He's the next best guy to the champion. I think what I have to do to overcome this obstacle is to do what I've always been doing, be the best that I could possibly be. In most cases, people can't handle that.
KEVIN IOLE: You've been doing this for a long time, going back to the 2008 Olympics, when you were a member of Team USA, how much longer do you want to compete, and when you're done fighting, do you see yourself filling the role of your father and kind of working with your brothers on their boxing?
GARY RUSSELL JR.: Well of course I definitely see me fulfilling the role and working with my younger brothers, and stuff like that. I do that now. I do that now, you know, so of course I'd be willing to do that. But to be honest with you, I still feel good, I still feel good. I would love to get three bouts in this year.
KEVIN IOLE: Whoa.
--2014 since you last did that?
GARY RUSSELL JR.: Exactly, I would love to see if I can get squeezed three bouts in this year. We're competing in the first month of the year. If we get through it injury-free, I believe we'll be able to circle back around. Come the middle of the year, probably summertime, and we can finish the year out strong as well. We could finish the end of the year strong as well, if we have someone that's willing to compete. I'm willing to unify the division, or I'm willing to move up and fluctuate my weight as long as I'm going to compete against a champion.
KEVIN IOLE: Well very good. January 22 on SHOWTIME, you can see this young man, Gary Russell Jr., do his thing. Mark Magsayo defending the WBC featherweight championship. Gary, I appreciate you, brother. All the best to you as always, and I look forward to seeing the fight.
GARY RUSSELL JR.: Oh, yeah. Thank you.
KEVIN IOLE: Thanks.