Maryland’s ‘First Family of Boxing’ Gears Up to Defend Title

by: Mark F. Gray Special to the AFRO
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When WBC World Featherweight Boxing Champion Gary Russell, Jr. saw his little brother and Olympic Bronze Medalist Antuanne during media day for what was supposed to be an upcoming championship fight card at MGM National Harbor near Fort Washington, Md. they shared a long embrace. That   moment symbolized to the world that the Russell family’s boxing brand had finally arrived.

World Featherweight Champion and Capital Heights native Gary Russell, Jr. (pictured) fights Oscar Escandon on May 20 at MGM National Harbor. (Courtesy photo)

“I never wanted to fight here until I came home as a champion,” said Russell, Jr. at the press conference to announce his first hometown title fight.

“This is a dream come true,” said Antuanne. “It’s all so surreal right now.”

The Capital Heights natives, who have arguably become the first family of boxing in Maryland, will finally get their chance to fight on the same card on the newest stage in Maryland on May 20 at the MGM National Harbor.  These brothers who have trained and grown together under the same name, lead by their father Gary, Sr., headline a fight card that features them on boxing’s grandest stage in the area with a signature event albeit after an extended wait.

“I’m a gladiator getting ready for a tough battle,” said Russell, Jr.  “This is going to be a huge night for my family and I’m glad that time is here.  We’re excited to get into the ring and show the fans what we’re capable of doing in the ring.”

This card was originally scheduled for March 11 and was expected to be the first fight night at the venue which opened last December.  However, it was postponed after Russell, Jr.’s opponent – WBC Interim Featherweight Champion  Oscar Escandon – suffered a back injury in training as they waited for a clearance for a national television fight partner. Ultimately, however, the inaugural fight card at MGM National Harbor featured Russian heavyweight Vasyl Lomanchenko who beat Jason Sosa in early April.

Russell Jr. will co-headline the second major championship fight in the intimate 4,000 seat theatre arena.  The venue, which has already hosted performances from Bruno Mars along with Earth, Wind, & Fire, and New Edition, is now the stage for this family affair play out in the ring.

A wait of nearly six weeks to get back into the rig doesn’t compare to the years that the Russell family has waited for this chance to fight before friends and family. Waiting to fight has become the norm for Russell, Jr. and Escandon who, when they finally meet, will have not been in the ring competitively for over a year.

It has been difficult for Russell, Jr. to find challengers to defend his title against. He has only fought once since knocking out Jhonny Gonzalez in March 2015 to win his championship in a title defense versus Patrick Ryland which ended in a second round TKO last April. Meanwhile, Escandon’s latest delay has extended his unintended exile from the ring. He knocked out Robinson Castellanos in the seventh round to earn his title last March in Washington, D.C.

“I’ve had to wait for the opportunity to face Gary Russell and I’m going to take full advantage of it,” said the Spanish speaking Escandon in a statement.  “It’s going to be a great fight and I know the fans are going to get their money’s worth. I feel 100 percent healthy and now that the fight is here I am ready to knock him out.”

Showtime Television will feature the Russell Jr. Escandon bout as the main event of its championship boxing doubleheader along with another IBF interim title fight between super middleweight contenders Andre Dirrell and Jose Uzcategui.

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