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  Defense Wins Championships!!!…Not In The Ring, Not When Gary Russell Jr. Doesn’t Punch

By Iberedem Ekure

On a cold night in January, Atlantic City was buzzing with activity and a sold-out event hall at the Borgata hosted Gary Russell Jr’s title defense against Mark Magsayo from the Philippines. I expected some fireworks given how much ink had been spilled on Gary Russell Jr’s inactivity as a fighter and champion and Subriel Matias’ thirst for avenging the only defeat on his resume in the co-main event.

The main event started out with Magsayo coming out the aggressor, very reminiscent of 70s and 80s one-way sluggers who moved in only one direction, forward. He was unable to land anything however and Gary Russell established center ring position. A very cagey round.

In the second, Magsayo came out immediately landing a left hook to the body. Gary Russell showed great defensive displays but seemed reluctant to let his hands go. Magsayo missed a lot of his punched but also was doing all the offense and occasionally finding success. Gary Russell landed a power shot counter towards the end of the round. The third was almost a carbon copy; I was left wondering what Gary Russell's strategy was. Defense is great but you don't score if you don't throw.

In the fourth round, Magsayo again started with the early pressure and looked to have Gary Russell in trouble going in for the kill, but Gary withstood the pressure and started to assert himself as the round went on. Gary Russell seemed to have hurt his right hand.

The fourth seemed to wake the champion and he fought a much better fifth round, still backing away from pressure and moving well but throwing a lot more with the left hand. Magsayo was the more aggressive fighter but not landing much.

In the sixth and seventh rounds, Magsayo asserted control again, sustaining the pressure and picking up points by being active and willing to engage. Despite the footwork and defensive moves, Gary Russell was not taking advantage of the counterpunch opportunities. He was simply not throwing enough.

In the eighth, Gary Russell Jr showed some impressive counterpunching as Magsayo continued to press. Best round for Gary Russell Jr which propelled him with momentum into the 9th where he picked up the offense to start the round looking like he wanted to close the fight in spectacular fashion. That was short-lived as he soon reverted to the complacency of previous rounds and allowed Magsayo to land a flurry to close the round

Championship rounds and Magsayo was dominant in the first half of the round, but Gary Russell began to land some counters in the latter half. Magsayo closed the round well getting Gary Russell against the ropes and landing.

In the eleventh, Gary Russell retreated to his defensive shell and Magsayo did what he does best, moving forward and throwing combinations. He landed a low percentage but when you are the only one throwing, it's all that matters.

Gary Russell came out for the twelfth looking like he saved his offense for the final round. Magsayo soon gained the momentum and stalked Gary Russell across the ring. Both men land as the crowd chants in support of either fighter sequentially. 

It went go to the scorecards. A win for Magsayo in my book and the judges had it 115-113, 115-113, 114-114 for a Magsayo majority decision. Gary Russell said in the post-fight interview that he knew his arm/shoulder were impaired 2 weeks ago but he refused to put the fight off and would request a rematch.

In the Co-Main event, Subriel Matias and Petros Ananyan went head-to-head as Matias sought to avenge his close 2020 defeat to the Russian. This one was a barn burner

In the first round, both fighters maintained center ring position and exchanged probing jabs. Ananyan asserted himself physically towards the end of the round muscling Matias towards the ropes at the cost of eating a few combinations to the head. Ananyan looked to have 10lbs over Matias in the ring and was using his size well.

In the second round, Matias landed more, showing himself the more skilled fighter as Ananyan continued his march forward. Matias took advantage of poor defense from Ananyan and landed a few shots to the mid-section.

The third round was much livelier with both fighters successfully exchanging combinations. Ananyan more powerful and Matias the quicker. By the fourth, Matias started to establish his dominance. He was making Ananyan miss several overhand rights and tagging him with uppercuts and combinations to the body. 

By the fifth round, it was really heating up. Both men were exchanging furiously in close quarters and the referee to her credit was letting the action continue without much interruption. Ananyan landed a thudding body shot and towards the end of the round, muscled Matias to the ropes but tiredness set in and both men resolved to hug out the rest of the round.

In the sixth round, the fans of the opposing fighters started the round with more action than the fighters themselves, cheering both men on. The action picked up as the fight went on with Ananyan landing some powerful right hands. The fight was fought at a bit more of a distance suiting Ananyan.

In round 7, Matias got a point deducted for a low blow but went on to display good defense and landed various eye-catching combinations that wobbled Ananyan. Ananyan showed great heart hanging in there and in the last 20 seconds had a rally himself, landing a couple of hard shots. He may yet have some life in the fight.

Matias was in cruise control in round 8, touching Ananyan up at will. Ananyan tried to keep him honest by flashing the jab as a deterrent, but the power was fading, and Matias' head movement and high guard were much too effective. Easiest round of the fight for Matias.

In the Ninth and what turned out to be the final round, Matias put on a clinic. He practically landed everything he threw and must have been bemused at how Pedro Ananyan was still standing after taking all those power shots. 20 seconds to the end of the round and Ananyan finally succumbed to a left hook; We had the first knockdown. Ananyan made the count and the round ended but Ananyan didn’t not come out of his corner at the bell after being checked by the doctor. 

Impressive showing from Matias. Masterful display.


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