Russell puts his undefeated record on the line against former world champion.
Gary Antonio Russell Clashes With Emmanuel Rodriguez In Crucial Bantamweight Bout
DJ Khaled’s 2010 hit, “All I Do Is Win” could well serve as the soundtrack for the Russell family’s boxing careers. With three brothers currently competing, they have an imposing combined record of 63–1. Their bond extends outside the sport of boxing, as they all bear the same name, differentiated only by different middle names.
Saturday night, Gary Antonio Russell (18–0) looks for his next win while also seeking the interim World Boxing Association title. Looking to derail those plans is former International Boxing Federation bantamweight champion Emmanuel Rodriguez (19–2) with 12 knockouts. Russell will have to put his entire set of skills on display to bring that title back to his residence, the nation’s capital. The highly anticipated bantamweight bout can be seen live on Showtime.
Zenger News was able to get a fight-week reaction from Russell, who explains what he needs to do to walk away with a victory, how the death of his younger brother affected him, why he wears tennis shoes in the ring and more.
Percy Crawford interviewed Gary Antonio Russell for Zenger.
Zenger: You have been locked down training for your fight against Emmanuel Rodriguez on Saturday night. How has camp treated you?
Antonio Russell: I feel great physically. My weight is low. I am only a few pounds away, so I feel good.
Zenger: Has it hit you yet that you are competing for this WBA interim title, or do you think it will hit you once you’re in the moment?
Antonio Russell: Maybe that’s when it’s going to happen when I’m there, doing my mitts, and then it will probably hit me a little different. But right now, I say it humbly, I expected it. I knew it would come if I stayed grounded and stuck to my everyday thing.
Zenger: He headlined a card that you fought on the undercard. Were you able to watch him once he got in the ring, or was he not quite on the radar yet?
Antonio Russell: Honestly, I didn’t pay any attention at all. Not because I didn’t want to, but I was going through so much mentally at the time. So, right after my fight, I was looking to get out of there. I was and am still dealing with losing my younger brother, Gary Boosa Russell, so after that fight I completely broke down. I just wanted to leave. I didn’t watch anybody after that.
Zenger: I know it’s been tough on the family, for sure. Is this fight against Rodriguez in any way a dedication to your brother who died?
Antonio Russell: Nah, it’s not for anyone. It’s completely for me. I know my team and my family will benefit from it, but right now this is definitely for me. I’m going to be the one in there throwing punches. I do it for my fam and everything, but I ain’t making this fight out to nobody but myself. I feel like I owe that to myself.
Zenger: Rodriguez’s last five opponents have a combined record of 101–1, and you will be his fourth consecutive undefeated opponent. That being said, what do you think of the skill set he brings to the table because he’s obviously willing to face the best?
Antonio Russell: He’s a good all-around fighter. I have watched him several times. He has good hand speed. I feel like he may lack some of the punching power that I possess, as well as some of the hand speed and ring generalship. With him being an ex-champion, I feel as though I have those same champion qualities. I just haven’t had the chance to display it. I feel like on Saturday night, I will be able to.
Zenger: You are 18 fights into your career. Did this opportunity come sooner than you expected, later than you expected or right on time?
Antonio Russell: I had my moments which I felt like it was taking a long time, I had my moments in which I felt like I should’ve been in this position, but everything plays out the way it’s supposed to.
Zenger: What do you have to do on Aug. 14 to assure yourself a victory?
Antonio Russell: I just have to be me. I don’t feel like he possesses anything that I haven’t seen. I tell people all the time, I feel as though the amateurs was tougher than the pros. In the pros you have two months to prepare for just one person. You can look at them over and over. In a tournament, you get a different style every night.
Zenger: That makes a lot of sense. Not very many fighters fought twice in 2020 due to COVID, like you did. Some didn’t fight at all. Did those two fights help you stay sharp?
Antonio Russell: I will say this humbly, as well — I don’t think it helped me too much. I think it gave me more time to work on my craft and to perfect more things in my arsenal. Other than that, we train every single day anyway as if we’re getting ready for a fight. We’re always keeping our gears turning.
Zenger: Juan Carlos Payano is a tough outing for any fighter, and you were able to defeat him in your last fight. Did you gain valuable experience during that fight?
Antonio Russell: You always gotta look back at things and see what you did wrong, see what you did right. I definitely took a lot of things from the Payano fight, and a lot of it was not skill-set things. It was more things from me as an individual. I definitely dealt with the loss of my brother that week and had to leave and fight that weekend. I pulled it off, I made it through, I got the victory.
But in my opinion, it was not my best performance — but I got it done. That says a lot about me. I don’t feel like a lot of people would have been able to do the same thing that I did that quickly. So, I applaud myself for that, but I also look at it like, even with that traumatic loss that I took, I should have been able to hold my composure together a little better than what I did.
Zenger: Man, you are definitely a tough critic of yourself, because many fighters may have pulled out of that fight, and no one could question them for it.
Antonio Russell: I guess it’s just me being hard on myself, but you’re right, it wasn’t easy. I just feel like I should have held myself together more. I shouldn’t have let it affect me as much mentally.
Zenger: You are probably the only fighter that wears tennis shoes to the ring to box in. Why not boxing shoes?
Antonio Russell: Honestly, they stopped making my favorite boxing boots a long time ago. Once they discontinued them, I couldn’t find a shoe that had that same good feel. So, I always worked out in my tennis shoes anyway. They’re comfortable, most of the time they’re basketball shoes, so you have that ankle support for me to move around in. I got little feet, bro, so none of my shoes are heavy. And they look good with my uniform (laughing).
Zenger: What would capturing this belt mean to you?
Antonio Russell: Man … it would mean a lot. It would also mean that I’m in line with the universe the way I’m supposed to be, and that my manifestation is on, and I’m where I need to be. I’m on the right track and I know if I stay consistent, I will be good.
Zenger: When the name Emmanuel Rodriguez was initially brought to you, what did you think?
Antonio Russell: It was a no-brainer, but of course we had to process it and weigh out our options. My pops brought it to me, we talked about it, I asked him what he thought about it. He liked the fight; I liked the fight, and we went from there.
Zenger: When you look at the bantamweight division, where would you like a win over Rodriguez to place you within the division?
Antonio Russell: If I win this belt, I feel it should definitely put me in position to fight a champion. If not, if I have to fight again before I actually see a champion for whatever reason, we will go with that. I’ll talk to my team about it, and we will go from there.
Zenger: After Saturday night, would you like to fight again before the year is out?
Antonio Russell: I’m getting familiar with how things work in the pros, and I understand at any given set date something can happen in which it pushes fights back or anything. So, I really don’t think about it too much. Of course, I would love to fight again. God willing, I get through this fight injury-free and victorious, I would love to go back.
Zenger: For anybody watching Gary Antonio Russell for the first time on Saturday night, what can they expect to see?
Antonio Russell: They can expect me to be exciting and to be sharp. And for the ones who have watched me before, they can expect to see more of my arsenal that they didn’t get a chance to see in my earlier bouts due to the competition. In most cases when you have better people in front of you, you can perform better because they’re not going to lay down. They are actually gonna fight.
Zenger: I am looking forward to this fight, good luck, and we will speak afterward. Is there anything else you want to add?
Antonio Russell: Anyone who’s into Instagram can follow me @garyantoniorussell_
Edited by Matthew B. Hall and Stan Chrapowicki