Gary Russell Jr. grew up in Capitol Heights, Maryland, an area not known for breeding success. Rather than involving himself in activities detrimental to his well-being, Russell would spend countless hours training in the basement of his home, pounding the heavy bag under the tutelage of his father, Gary Sr.
“Not having to have the high-tech equipment to be successful, instilled work ethic, memory of hitting the heavy bag in the basement, driving mother crazy,” he said.
Russell made it his mission to show youth in the DMV that they don’t have to be a product of the environment, but can forge their own paths. Through his Team Russell Foundation, he is bringing boxing back into the area by just having fun.
Russell knows that community activism is key to giving back, and the impact that his parents had on his life assisted him with his dreams.
“My mother and father scraping up cash for boxing uniforms to gain experience in boxing [has] propelled us to where we are now,” he said.
In 2016, Team Russell was created. Like AAU basketball, youth boxers 8 to 16 years of age compete to represent their community in national boxing tournaments. Russell puts them through four days of excruciating training to bring out their highest competitive spirit.
Of his efforts, Russell said fervidly, “We need the youth to understand that you can do anything you put your mind too through consistent, being in constant motion, instilling that concept. Anyone we meet, we play a significant role in their life. We want to build a dynasty, that includes passing valuable information down generation to generation.”
Russell focuses on children in areas such as Capitol Heights because, like him, they’re not foreign to adversity.
After several hand injuries and conditioning issues, Russell has persevered against the odds. The most recent setback came when the scheduled defense of his WBC featherweight championship against Oscar Escandon, which would have been Russell’s first fight in his hometown, was postponed in March due to a back injury to Escandon.
With the bout now scheduled for May 20 at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Russell said he is excited not just for the fight, but for the community.
“The MGM has opened many doors of entertainment in the DMV, so this fight is meaningful for me and my family,” he said. “The fight being pushed back isn’t a big deal — injuries happen and it wasn’t in his control. So now we’re just ready and time to roll.”
Though he’s known for his boxing prowess, Russell wants to be remembered for instilling morals and integrity into the youth.
“I [want] people to know Gary Russell the man, not the fighter,” Russell said, stressing his desire to provide an umbrella of security over his family with his career choices.
From training as a boy in Capitol Heights to fighting in the main event at MGM, Gary Russell Jr. represents and uplifts the DMV like a real champion should.