Russell Jr says he may retire if Santa Cruz or Gervonta don’t fight him

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Gary Russell Jr has been intensely criticized for his inactivity and opposition, but the featherweight titleholder says he’s plain being avoided — and that he’s getting tired of it.

Look, I won’t pretend that we haven’t criticized Gary Russell Jr. Everyone has over the last few years.

In 2015, he fought once, beating veteran Jhonny Gonzalez to win the WBC featherweight title. 13 months later, he returned and stopped Patrick Hyland in two rounds. 13 months after that, he returned and thrashed Oscar Escandon. And then 12 months after that, he beat Joseph Diaz Jr via decision to retain his belt again.

Ol’ Once-a-Year Russell, he’s become. He’s currently due up on May 18, where he’ll face Kiko Martinez.

That’s not the fight anyone wanted. The 33-year-old Martinez (39-8-2, 28 KO) is a fine fighter, a good pro, the current European champion. But Martinez is a known quantity, too. He lost to Rendall Munroe in 2008 and again in 2009, lost to Takalani Ndlovu in 2009, lost to Carl Frampton in 2013 and again in 2014, lost to Scott Quigg in 2015, lost to Leo Santa Cruz in 2016, lost to Josh Warrington in 2017.

Martinez is a two-division European champion, yes, but he’s also 0-3 in world title fights. Quigg stopped him in two. Santa Cruz stopped him in five after putting him down twice in the first round.

Recently, Jordan Gill, a 24-year-old British prospect at 23-0 (7 KO), talked about fighting Kiko Martinez as a proper step up. That’s a fight that made a lot of sense for Jordan Gill. It’s not a fight that makes much sense for Gary Russell Jr at this stage.

Russell (29-1, 17 KO) is 30 years old now. A former amateur standout, the southpaw will absolutely make you think he’s the best featherweight in the world that once a year we see him fight. He’s got tremendously fast hands, he’s a smart boxer, he’s got some power — look, his only pro loss was to Vasiliy Lomachenko. The guy can fight. It’s clear when you watch him that he can fight.

But the inactivity, and the lack of competition since that 2014 loss to Lomachenko — you can’t ignore it.

Russell has heard it all, of course, and decided to speak out through the official PBC channels. In his words, he’s being avoided by fellow titleholder Leo Santa Cruz, most notably.

And he says that he’s gotten very frustrated, and is even talking about leaving the ring if he can’t get the big fights.

“I’m only staying at 126 for Leo Santa Cruz. I have a wife and children. If they keep playing these games, I’m going to pass the torch off to my little brothers. I’m starting to get frustrated. … I might say, “enough is enough,” throw in the towel and wash my hands of the sport. … I wanted Santa Cruz. I wanted Mares before he lost to Jhonny Gonzalez and I knocked out Gonzalez for the title. I wanted Frampton, but Frampton didn’t wanna fight me. I wanted Josh Warrington. … You don’t see nobody calling me out. They don’t wanna fight me, and I’m getting to the point where I’m getting tired of it.”

960284704.jpg - Russell Jr says he may retire if Santa Cruz or Gervonta don’t fight himPhoto by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Russell says he’s willing to go to 130 to fight “Tank” Davis, and that if he has to fight Miguel Berchelt first to make that happen, he’d do that, too. He says he believes Santa Cruz’s team are avoiding him because Santa Cruz is “a flat-footed fighter … who can’t do nothing with me.”

He says the reason he’s fighting once a year is that he has to defend his title once a year to keep it, but that nobody major wants to fight him.

Here’s the bottom line, at least from me: I hope Gary Russell Jr, when (it’s not “if”) he beats Kiko Martinez on May 18, very publicly and very loudly calls for a fight with Leo Santa Cruz or Gervonta Davis or Josh Warrington or whomever, right there in the ring on Showtime. I hope he raises a major stink about it to the point that it can’t be ignored.

The thing is, I believe he beats all those guys. And I’d love to see those fights. I want to see Gary Russell Jr fight more often, and I want him to get the fights he’s saying he’s been trying to get. He’s a tremendous talent, one of the most truly skilled fighters out there today, and it’s a shame we don’t see him more, whatever the reasons.

Honestly, and I’ve said this in several comments and I’ll say it here, I’ve long thought it was more that he was sort of aloof about his career, it was just a logical conclusion to me. Lots of fighters are avoided, and certainly he has the sort of skill set to be avoided, but it’s been four years since we’ve seen him in with someone we truly wanted to see him in with, and the inactivity mattered as much as the opponents. But what he’s saying here goes entirely against that idea. I’m more than happy to be tremendously wrong if it means we get one of these big fights.

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