By Mark Whicker
11:36 PM EDT, July 3, 2012
INDIO, Calif. — If boxing can figure out where it left its torch before the whole house goes down, Gary Russell Jr. again showed he might have the hands to hold it.
The 24-year-old featherweight from Washington D.C. had too many hands for Christopher Perez at Fantasy Springs Casino over the weekend, decking him four times and stopping him at 1:41 of the third round.
That makes Russell 20-0 with 12 knockouts. So what? Twenty-and-oh is the shallow end of the pool.
But if all the cards get played correctly, this kid has the blurry hand speed, the savvy, the quickness and the sly charm to give boxing the lifeline it doesn't deserve.
"If everything goes well, I think the next one might be a title shot," said Eric Gomez, the matchmaker for Golden Boy Promotions.
As always, boxing is quietly being asked if it has plans to donate its organs.
This time the condition seems truly critical. The competition from MMA has intensified, and the one event that would make America put down its cellphone and watch — Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr. — moves steadily toward oblivion.
Then came Pacquiao's violently disputed loss to Timothy Bradley and all the conspiracy theories within.
No one sees a savior. That is why Russell has needed so little time to plant such hope.
"I definitely don't think boxing is gone," he said. "Just like the trees outside, there's a season. Everything has a season to blossom and bloom, and at some point the season is over and the new guys come on."
But Russell sees boxing from street level. His dad, Gary Sr., runs Enigma Boxing just outside Washington. Thirty kids work in the gym, including three of Gary Jr.'s brothers.
"It's therapeutic," Russell Sr. said. "They come to the gym, eager to learn, and they learn to accept teaching. Some of them are at risk. We work on their personality, the way they wear the pants, everything about how they represent themselves.
"I don't think boxing will ever be played out. But the politics is destroying it. The whole concept of it is that if you don't make the dollars, it doesn't make sense. Which is true."
Russell Sr. was on the verge of heavyweight contention when a hunting rifle discharged in his truck and wounded his left leg. He became a chef instead and opened his boxing club. He also had six boys, all with the first name of Gary. Gary Jones Russell, nicknamed "Fast Hands," once sparred with Oscar De La Hoya.
One night, at a club show, 4-year-old Gary Jr. walked into the ring and shadow boxed. The routine became so popular that he did it every night.
At 7, Russell Jr. was in the ring with someone else.
"My first fight, I told my dad I was going to make the guy cry," he said. "And I did. I never had any fear in the ring. It's like home.
"When I fight a guy, I realize that, in the beginning, he's as strong as he's going to be. That's when I want to gauge his reaction time to my punches. I figure that out in the first minute and a half. Once fatigue sits in, he won't be as fast or strong or alert.
"You try to show illusions, make a fighter use his body against himself. It's complicated, but it's easy for me. It's like a computer. I'm downloading while I'm fighting."
Russell was a Junior Olympics and a National Gold Gloves champion before he was 17. He made the 2008 Olympic team but missed a match because of illness, which the Russells say was caused by the pressure of weight loss, made necessary by the coaches' insistence on weightlifting.
Quickness aside, Russell distinguishes himself with punching volume and force. He is routinely compared to former D.C. legend Ray Leonard, who gave Russell his outstanding boxer award at the Blue & Gold tournament seven years ago.
His dad says his son is more reminiscent of "the real Sugar man," Sugar Ray Robinson.
"A lot of guys have combinations and some of them are slap punches," Russell Sr. said. "Gary can throw a five-punch combo and all of them have knockout in them."
It was 108 degrees here last week, but Gomez was not standing in the sun when he said this:
"I haven't been doing this as long as a lot of other guys. But I really think Gary Russell is the best fighter in the world."
He meant right now. The next five years would be OK, too.
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