OXON HILL, MD — Saturday night’s Showtime-televised boxing event at the MGM National Harbor promised to be a night of fist-flying, but the plan was for punches to be thrown only by the prizefighters. Unfortunately, one-twos were launched by a variety of people who didn’t have the gloves on, making it a busy night for the local police force.
The most notable non-sanctioned action occurred after a controversial conclusion to the Andre Dirrell-Jose Uzcategui bout, which ended when Uzcategui was disqualified for knocking Dirrell to the canvas after the bell had rung to end round eight. A melee subsequently broke out in the crowd and spilled into the ring. It climaxed with Dirrell’s trainer Leon Lawson throwing a flurry of punches at an unsuspecting Uzcategui, landing a flush left hook. Lawson escaped the arena before police could apprehend him.
Some more skirmishes erupted in various sections of the 2,345 crowd, but calm was ultimately restored by the time local fighter Gary Russell Jr. put on a dazzling display to defend his WBC version of the world featherweight title against an overmatched Oscar Escandon.
The extra-curricular fighting threatened to overshadow the achievements of Russell Jr.’s family, who provided a much needed touch of class to the night. Three members of the Russell clan, Gary Jr., Gary Antonio, and Gary Antuanne fought and claimed victories at the event, capping a happy birthday for their patriarch and trainer Gary Russell Sr. The 58-year-old Russell Sr., who has fathered six sons named Gary, has long railed against the type of thuggery displayed by Lawson, endeavoring to instill integrity in his offspring through countless hours spent in a makeshift gym in the basement of their home.
Gary Sr.’s determination to provide his sons with goals and keep them off the dangerous streets of their Washington D.C. region neighborhood can be attributed to a tragedy that is the nightmare of any parent. In 2004, his son Devaun fell victim to the environment and was killed in a shooting at the age of 17.
Knowing all too well about the fragility of life, Gary Sr. has sought to implant a mindset in his sons that views boxing as a springboard to greater things. And while careers in professional fighting can bring financial riches, he is also aware that it can result in ruinous health. As such, he wants his sons to have a pragmatic approach to the game.
“A lot of people when they come to a fight, they want to see two guys beat the crap out of each other,” he told Theundefeated.com. “They want someone, if they get their eye knocked out, to push it back in and keep fighting. The sport is brutal, but we have to treat it as a business.”
The performances of his offspring on Saturday night certainly adhered to that philosophy. Gary Jr., 28-1 (17 KO), in his first hometown professional outing, hardly got hit by a punch over seven rounds while bombarding Escandon with rapid-fire flurries until the one-sided contest was stopped. Before the fight, the rugged Escandon, 25-3 (17 KO), promised to make the bout a war, but Russell Jr. had very different ideas about how his second title defense would go.
“My father told me what creates a war is two fighters that didn’t have a Plan B,” the 28-year-old Russell Jr. said. “That’s the difference. You have to have that versatility. The more intellectual fighter is most likely the one that wins the fight.”
Earlier in the night, bantamweight Gary Antonio Russell, 8-0 (6 KO), continued his nascent professional career by making light work of Jovany Fuentes, 7-9 (6 KO), with a third-round stoppage win. Younger brother Gary Antuanne made a successful pro debut, and was even more economical than his siblings, halting Joshua Ross, 2-4-4 (0 KO) at just 2:25 of the first round in a super lightweight contest.
While the three Russell brothers are still young men with seemingly years of professional boxing ahead of them, each man has one eye on life after prizefighting. Gary Jr., 28, has already invested his career earnings in multiple properties. Gary Antuanne, 20, adds: “Real estate is in my future. We’re going to own our own properties and be the shot-callers.”
Similarly, Gary Antonio, 24, set forth the Russell philosophy when telling Yahoo Sports: “A successful career for Antonio Russell would mean I get in and out of this sport unharmed, brain fully functioning. I don’t want to be walking funny or have problems, and I get out of it with something to show for it. But by that, I don’t mean cars, jewelry, clothes, etc. I want me and my family to be financially stable to the point we can be practicing entrepreneurs to make income for me and my family.”
Despite their pugilistic success and ambitious nature, the Russell family avoids any hint of arrogance or bombast. Even in the immediate aftermath of their victories on Saturday they remained soft-spoken and polite. During an in-ring interview following his fight, Gary Jr. felt obliged to take it upon himself to apologize for the night’s earlier fracas, even though he and his team had no involvement. “I want to apologize for the gladiators [earlier]. The Dirrell camp, sometimes emotions build up and take the best of us. Please forgive them.”
On a night when unsavory antics at the event will garner some headlines, the example set by the Russell family outside the ring was as important as their success inside it. In all, Saturday represented a job well done for Gary Sr., who got to enjoy the fruits of his labor. No one could begrudge the patriarch from savoring their moment.
“I’m ecstatic,” Gary Sr. said at the end of the night. “I’m really happy. I got three wins. Three stoppages. It’s my birthday. I’m 15 minutes from home and I can now go home and relax.”
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Photo credit: Tom Casino/SHOWTIME
Ronan Keenan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or @rokeenan on Twitter.