Featherweight world champion Gary Russell Jr. and undefeated mandatory challenger Joseph “JoJo” Diaz Jr. met members of the media on opposite coasts just one week out of their WBC world title showdown on Saturday, May 19, from MGM National Harbor in Maryland.
Russell will defend his WBC title against Diaz in a split-site SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING telecast (10:05 p.m. ET/PT) and will feature WBC Light Heavyweight World Champion Adonis Stevenson defending his title against two-division world champion Badou Jack in a 12-round main event presented by Premier Boxing Champions from Toronto.
Russell was joined by his younger brothers, Gary Antuanne Russell and Gary Antonio Russell at The Enigma Boxing Gym in Capitol Heights, Md., while Diaz took part in a workout at Azteca Gym in the City of Bell, just east of downtown Los Angeles.
Tickets for the MGM National Harbor show, which is promoted by TGB Promotions in association with Golden Boy Promotions, are on sale now and are available by visiting http://mgmnationalharbor.com/.
Here’s what the fighters had to say:
GARY RUSSELL JR.
“Sometimes you tend to magnify an event because of the fact that it’s in your hometown and it’s on a major card. It tends to take away from the true goal and the true purpose. I just need to focus on what the objective is. We never magnify the events. I think it’s cool that the neighbors and the mail lady and the people who honk their horns as they see me jogging down the street have the ability to get in their car and drive 15 minutes down the road to be a part of everything that’s going on and get to see a product of their environment.
“I draw my energy from my family, my friends, the true fans of Gary Russell Jr. That’s what I ultimately do it for. Regardless of what our profession is, we try to have a sense of financial stability for our families and that’s my objective as well. That’s what keeps me motivated.
“Diaz already made the statement that I am the best fighter in the featherweight division. He already made the statement that none of the other world champions are willing to step into the ring to compete against me. The managers and the promoters aren’t willing to put their fighters in the ring against me.
“I welcome the fact that Diaz wants the fight. As a world champion, I wouldn’t want or expect anything less. I want a competitor that’s ready to fight and that’s going to bring their best. I believe that he’s going to be the best that he can possibly be. My objective is to prepare myself to the best of my ability. I never really focus too much on my opponents. If Gary Russell Jr. is the best that he can be on fight night, then we’re good.
“I know that Diaz is young, he’s hungry. He’s the number one contender. He has eight weeks to prepare for nobody else but me. That’s always a recipe for somebody who’s really going to be ready and hungry. I think he knows that he’s getting in the ring with one of the best fighters in the world so he’s going to be ready.
“I love what I do. Even when I’m done with the sport of boxing, I’ll still be in the gym training and looking to spar. I’ve been competing since I was seven years old. I’ll be 30, it’s a lot of time that I’ve spent grinding. I just want to be able to spend time with my family and my friends and help give back to this younger generation.
“I take my hat off to him for getting in the ring and making this fight happen. You have to appreciate that as a fellow warrior and as a fellow gladiator, I respect it.
“I have the strength, the speed, the power, ring generalship, boxing IQ – all of that will come together on the 19th.
“I definitely see my hand speed being effective but it’s more than that. That’s just a physical attribute. What happens when you see two fighters who have an equal amount of hand speed and an equal amount of power? It’s the mindset.
“It’s always cool to compete with my younger brothers and share the field of battle with them. But I try not to magnify the event. The true focus is being victorious on the 19th.
“It’s always important to see my brothers develop, even if it wasn’t on my card. We have a concept of a dynasty. My definition of that is information being passed down from generation to generation. I feel as though when my younger brothers get to the age I am, I expect them to be better than what I am now. The sky is the limit and I want them to keep developing not just as fighters but as men.
“We put the city on the map. We’re bringing boxing back to the DMV area. Gervonta Davis is a fighter that I’ve watched come up through the amateurs and now he’s a world champion. Jarrett Hurd is another one that I’ve watched come up in the amateurs. He used to watch me train getting ready for the Olympics and now he’s a world champion as well. It goes to show that if you keep pushing, you stay hungry, diligent and you don’t cut corners, the sky is the limit.”
JOSEPH DIAZ JR.
“I have no hostility toward Gary Russell Jr. I respect Gary Russell Jr., and I know what he brings to the table. Ever since I was brought up as a professional fighter I was always humble and I was always down to earth. Now that I have the opportunity to become the champion that I know I can be I feel like I’m more outspoken because I know that the opportunity is finally here, and I know what I’m capable of doing.
“I want to fight the best at 126 pounds and I want to show all the fans that I’m the real deal. By fighting and bringing on the toughest 126 pounders like Gary Russell Jr., and defeating him, that’s going to showcase to the whole boxing world that I am the real deal and I will be the king at 126 pounds.
“He’s been inactive and used to fighting just once a year now. But what makes him so dangerous is he’s very, very speedy and has great hand speed. And not only that but he knows how to use his hand speed and counter when guys are opening up. My father and I know what we are bringing to the table, and I’m fast, as well. I have a very high boxing IQ and I’m very powerful in there. I know how to land sneaky body shots and I’m a big 126-pound fighter, and that will be the key to victory. He will try and land his power shots, but they’re not going to be effective because I’m the bigger fighter.
“I need to bring this WBC belt back to L.A. and to South El Monte. I’ll be the first champion coming out of there and I’m a role model to a lot of youth. That’s what makes me hungry and I’m one hundred percent confident I’ll be the champion and we will have a big parade in South El Monte, and you’re all invited!
“I’m like Pernell Whitaker and an Oscar De La Hoya mix. Pernell because he’s fast and Oscar because he applies the pressure and throws combinations. That’s what I plan on bringing to this fight. Applying the pressure and taking him to a point where he’s never been before. He drops his hands a lot and his defense is not that good, so I’ll be taking advantage of that. I’ll be landing body shots, and let’s see if he can take it for 12 rounds.
“This is an opportunity of a lifetime. Fighting for a world title against Gary Russell Jr., is a dream come true. I feel like I’m so much better a fighter now than I was at the Olympics. If feel like if I fought that kid who was in the Olympics now I’d stop him in the first round. My management and trainers have groomed me for this fight on May 19. I fought some undefeated fighters, some experienced fighters and some real live dogs. I just feel like all the experience I’ve gained in the past will serve me well.
“I’d like to fight all the best in the 126-pound division, Leo Santa Cruz, Abner Mares, Oscar Valdez and Lee Selby. These are big fights that I really want to make and I want to fight the best and be the best.”
GARY ANTONIO RUSSELL
“We’re in the ring with Gary every day, so we see a lot of things that other people don’t. People only judge him for his hand speed and are just starting to recognize his power, but nobody has seen his full potential yet. No fighter he has faced has forced him to bring it out.
“Diaz doesn’t know what he has coming for him. Most fighters are one-dimensional. Gary is comfortable fighting anyway. He can fight on the inside, the outside, he can counter, he can box you, JoJo Diaz does not know what to expect.
“There’s never a time when we’re in the gym together when we’re not critiquing each other and learning. That’s the whole point of being in the gym every day. Once you feel you’re learning has stopped, I think you should give it up. We’re always in here trying to sharpen our game.”
GARY ANTUANNE RUSSELL
“It’s more enjoyable fighting with my brothers. As a child, if you had three kids and one of them went to school by himself, it would be a little rough. It’s great having that support and the comfort having your brothers on the same card.
“We try to gravitate towards our brother and take certain things from him. We notice his hand speed and we’re his younger brothers, of course we have that alter ego where we think we could be faster than him or hit harder than him. That competitiveness drives us. It’s always there.”
GARY RUSSELL SR.
“The camp has been good. We’ve been getting the work in. Everybody seems to be on point. We’re always in camp together.
“JoJo Diaz has a lot of confidence. All fighters pretty much all do the same thing, unless they have incredible physical attributes that make them stand out. JoJo believes in himself and that’s something that’s a plus for any fighter. Whether or not he’s ready to go out of his shell, that remains to be seen. He loves his left hand, he tries to go to the body. He impressed me as a good inside fighter.
“This is a huge plus for us. We’re only 15 minutes from home. We just get to do what we have to do and go home.
“Antonio is a really hard puncher. A lot of people don’t know it, but for that weight class, he hits extremely hard. Antuanne is starting to develop into a complete fighter. He’s always learning. You never get to the point where you have it all, it’s a constant growth but he’s really starting to understand the technical aspects of the sport. I’m happy with both of them.”