Mark ‘Magnifico’ Magsayo ended the longest active title reign in boxing as he upset Garry Russell Jr. Magsayo started the fight strongly but Russell fought bravely after suffering a shoulder injury to make the fight close on the scorecards despite the champion fighting largely with one arm from round five onwards.
IN THE RED CORNER – GARY RUSSELL JR. (31-1, 18KO)
Russell had reigned as the WBC world champion for 6 years and 10 months since capturing the crown with a fourth round stoppage of Jhonny Gonzalez in 2015. It was a case of second time lucky for Russell, who had suffered his only career defeat so far in his first world title challenge, dropping a majority decision to Vasyl Lomachenko in the summer of 2014.
The last three title defenses from Russell had come against mandatory challengers, with Joseph Diaz, current IBF world title holder Kiko Martinez and then undefeated Tugstsogt Nyambayar all falling at the hands of the reigning champion. The champion had received some criticism for inactivity in the buildup, with this fight coming on the back of Russell’s longest career layoff of 23 months since the Nyambayar victory.
The fight camp for this defense had been a troublesome one for Russell, with his father and trainer Gary Russell Sr. being in and out of the hospital throughout, ultimately requiring surgery to amputate his foot due to Diabetes Type 2 complications. This would also be the first time Russell stepped through the ropes since the death of his brother Gary ‘Boosa’ Russell from a heart attack in December of 2020.
The health issues of his father meant Russell trained himself for periods of camp as he prepared for this bout, with the champion also telling Showtime television before the fight that he had suffered a training camp injury weeks before the bout but not disclosing the nature of the injury. At the original weigh in, Russell came in half a pound overweight but was able to boil down to weight at the second attempt.
IN THE BLUE CORNER – MARK MAGSAYO (23-0, 16KO)
Undefeated challenger Magsayo earned his status as WBC mandatory challenger courtesy of a spectacular 10th round knockout of Julio Ceja on the undercard of his countryman Manny Pacquiao’s fight against Yordenis Ugas. Ceja was leading on the scorecards entering round 10, before Magsayo detonated a right hand on the jaw of Ceja, leaving the Mexican fighter unconscious on his back.
This would now be the first career opportunity for Magsayo to attain his dream of emulating childhood hero Pacquiao and bringing a world title back to his native Philippines.
The lightning speed of both fighters was on display in the opening stages with both men trading punches and skipping on their toes. Magsayo stepped forward to close the space and a ducking Russell put his shoulder into the abdomen of his opponent, slightly lifting the Filipino off the ground before referee Benjy Esteves Jr. separated the pair.
Russell attempted to move forward and fight behind the jab but the rapid hand speed of Magsayo was a constant threat on the counter. Russell fired out a jab only to receive a powerful counter to the body before the challenger also landed a straight right hand and followed up with two more stiff scoring shots in an impressive opening round.
Magsayo started round two in impressive fashion, landing solid hooks and bouncing out of range before splitting the guard of Russell with a quick uppercut. Russell responded with a one-two combination before twice ducking under Magsayo punches and pivoting in artful fashion.
The challenger landed a solid body blow and continued to move around the ring while countering Russell. The champion landed a straight right hand only to be stung with yet another counter shot late in the round, Magsayo then landed a right hook and smiled at the bell after what was an impressive opening two rounds from the Filipino fighter.
Magsayo fired out of the gate again in round three with a rapidfire pair of punches before landing a winding right hand to the body. When the fight got close, Russell tried to rough up the challenger with punches in the clinch.
The fizzing blows of Magsayo continued to thud against the guard of Rusell with the patient champion finally connecting with a left hand. When Russell lunged forward, Magsayo reversed roles from round one by dipping his shoulder and boring into his opponent before referee Esteves stepped in to seperate. Russell threw out a scoring blow late in the round only to receive two back from the sharp challenger.
A swinging right hand from Magsayo early in round four missed the jaw of Russell but landed on the right shoulder, causing the champion to show visible pain. Magsayo closed in and backed Russell onto the ropes, only for the champion to escape the onslaught with quick footwork.
Magsayo stood confidently in the center of the ring looking to attack Russell, while the champion circled the ropes and appeared hesitant to throw blows with the right arm that was potentially now injured.
Russell went on the offensive with four straight left handed blows before returning to the corner and having his shoulder assessed by the ringside doctor who cleared the champion to continue the fight.
Clearly impacted by the shoulder injury, Russell still managed to gain a foothold in the fight during round five as he circled the ropes, changing angles and connecting consistently with scoring left handed blows.
Magsayo closed in on Russell late in the round and the champion ducked low to dig his right shoulder into the body of his opponent, this time folding to his knees on contact rather than lifting the challenger off the ground as he had done so effortlessly in round one.
The defending champion appeared to carry a greater offensive threat with one healthy arm than he had at the start of the fight with two, as round six saw Russell counter the rapid hooks and uppercuts of Magsayo with straight left handed scoring blows. Magsayo fought on the front foot, landing a hook to the ribs before skipping out of range while a patient Russell looked for openings to fire out straight left hands.
Round seven opened with Magsayo landing a winding right hand to the ribs before Russell dropped his hands low to draw in the challenger. Magsayo continued to step forward and apply pressure but was struggling to breach the guard of Russell who remained a threat on the counter and picked his shots.
Russell popped out two left handed shots to open round eight, then showed good movement as Magsayo closed in, only for the champion to duck underneath and send the challenger off balance with a left hook. Russell ducked under another punch before landing a counter and posing Magsayo problems by circling the ring and picking shots on the counter.
Slick head movement from Russell was making Magsayo miss while the champion continued to land scoring blows with his one good arm, likely taking the round on the scorecards.
Russell opened round nine with four straight scoring left hands and twice ducked under an advancing Magsayo before changing the angle and setting up another attack, catching the challenger with a flush left hand to the jaw. Wily veteran Russell appeared to be slowing the offense of Magsayo with the threat of counter shots, breaking up the momentum of the advancing challenger with straight punches before skipping out of harm’s way.
Magsayo looked to open up offensively late in the round, but Russell ducked his head and circled out of range in what was another good round for the effectively one armed champion.
The feet and intellect of Russell were beginning to become the dominant feature of the fight, as Magsayo walked forward in round 10 swinging hooks, only for the champion to duck underneath the punches and move around the ring evasively.
Russell repeatedly connected with left handed shots before moving out of range, as Magsayo targeted the ribs of the champion with hooks. Magsayo attempted to open up offensively at the end of the round, only for Russell to show good reflexes again and leave the Filipino punching air.
As the fight tightened up on the scorecards, trainer Freddie Roach told Magsayo “don’t give this fight away,” imploring his man to let his hands go as he had done so successfully in the early stages of the fight. Roach had legitimate cause for concern, with Russell having closed the gap to two points (94-96) on this author’s scorecard with two rounds remaining.
Following the advice of his legendary trainer, Magsayo came out aggressively for round 11 and walked down Russell to fire flurries on punches that included a strong left hook to the body. The defensive quality and movement of Russell remained, but less was coming back at the advancing Magsayo in terms of counter punches as the challenger banked an impressive and potentially pivotal round on the scorecards.
Magsayo was the aggressor in the opening minute of round 12, pushing forward and firing off shots while Russell looked for openings on the counter. Magsayo backed Russell into the corner and teed off only for the champion to escape, raise his arms above his head and taunt the challenger.
The final seconds of the fight followed a now familiar pattern with an advancing Magsayo facing counter punches from Russell with the champions back against the ropes. As the final bell rang, both fighters raised their arms in celebration but the camera shots into the crowd told a story with the family of Russell wearing concerned expressions ahead of the scores being read out.
Statistics displayed by Showtime illustrated the impact of Russell’s shoulder injury, with the champion not throwing a single jab for the final seven rounds of the fight. Throughout the fight, Magsayo landed 150 of 543 total punches whie Russell found the target with 69 of 323.
When the scores were announced, tension heightened as Jimmy Lennon Jr. reported that judge Lynn Carter had scored the bout as a 114-114 draw. Judges Mark Consentino and Henry Grant both scored the bout 115-113 in favor of the winner and new WBC world featherweight champion Magsayo.
The Filipino sank to his knees in celebration while Russell cut a frustrated figure as his lengthy title reign came to a disappointing end.
WHAT THEY SAID
“My dream just came true. Ever since I was a kid, this was my dream. Thank you so much to the FIlipino fans for the support,” said a humble and emotional Magsayo in the ring after the fight.
In his post-fight interview, the defeated Russell disclosed that he had damaged his shoulder two weeks prior during camp but had refused to pull out, making it vulnerable to the fourth round injury that was so crucial in the fight.
Russell surprisingly seemed to believe that it should have been a one sided victory for him on the scorecards. “I gave him a boxing lesson the whole way through, I landed clean whenever I wanted to. I couldn’t use my right arm but I was still able to throw effective shots and touch him at will,” said the defeated champion.
WHAT NEXT FOR THE WINNER
“I’m willing to fight anybody now, I’m a champion now” said an excited Magsayo after the fight. It remains to be seen if Magsayo will be willing to fight Russell in a rematch. If the newly crowned champion wishes to try and unify belts, a showdown with Mexican WBO title holder Emanuel Navarrete would be a tremendously entertaining affair.
Russell left no doubt after the fight that he will return to the ring against top level opposition soon. “I will be back, I still want these fights, I’m about to get my shoulder fixed and we back at it.”
When asked by Jim Gray if he would want a rematch with Magsayo, a confident Russell responded “hell yeah, will he want a rematch?” If Magsayo looks elsewhere, another rematch could give Russell an opportunity to win world title gold again by facing off against IBF king Martinez who Russell beat in 2019.
Author’s Scorecard (round by round)