Local boxing family making history at home

WASHINGTON — At long last, the brothers Russell are home.

Yes, featherweight boxing champion Gary Russell Jr. trains in Capitol Heights, Maryland, with his brothers Gary Antuanne and Gary Antonio, under the watchful eye of their father/trainer Gary Sr. But Saturday marks the first time any of them will fight just a brief drive from home, under the lights at MGM Grand in Oxon Hill.

Not only will 28-year-old Gary Jr. (27-1, 16 knockouts) defend his featherweight title against 32-year-old Oscar Escandon (25-2, 17 KOs), but his younger brothers Gary Antonio (7-0 bantamweight with 5 KOs) and Gary Antuanne (a 2016 Olympian making his pro debut) will fight on the undercard, the first trio of brothers to fight on the same card.

This historic night was originally scheduled for March 11, which would have made it the first boxing event ever at the new MGM Grand. But Escandon sustained a back injury while training, triggering a postponement to May 20. That handed the title of first fight at MGM Grand to the April 11 Vasyl Lomachenko vs. Jason Sosa fight (ironically, Gary Jr.’s only professional loss was to Lomachenko in 2014).

Even still, Gary Jr. is happy to defend his title on home turf.

“It’s cool that we got the neighbors, the mailman, the mail lady, everybody that I went to school with and etc. — they have the opportunity to be in the building while the event is taking place,” he told WTOP.

The closest to home Gary Jr. has fought previously was a bout at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. However, his opponent apparently likes fighting in D.C.: Escandon’s last bout was a seventh-round knockout of Robinson Castellanos last year at the D.C. Armory.

Meanwhile, Gary Antonio and Gary Antuanne are so locked in on winning their bouts they don’t even know the names of their opponents. Both explain they’ve watched film so it’s not a sign of disrespect or a matter of overlooking their opponents (who are actually Jovany Fuentes and Joshua Ross, respectively), just a complete focus on their own techniques and fundamentals.

Gary Antuanne — who has more than enough swagger for all six brothers combined — says you’ll definitely want to see what he and Gary Antonio have in store.

“I’m entertaining,” he said. “I’m an ‘A’ class fighter and people aren’t going to spend their money on something less. If you spend your money on me, you’re most definitely going to get a show.”

“We’re all trained by the same coach, we’re all exciting fighters,” Gary Antonio added. “People want to watch us because we’re not one-dimensional. We have the answer for any style that’s going to come our way.”

If that’s not enough Gary Russells for you, how about one more? Another of the brothers, Gary Allen, will work the corner for each of the three bouts. Of his three fighting siblings, he’s mildly concerned about one.

“I’m a little nervous about Antuanne making the transition to pro from amateur,” Gary Allen said. He adds that his little brother spars with pros and thus has faith in him, but that Gary Antuanne has to adjust to a style of boxing that involves “more punches, less headgear, more likely to get a head butt.”

Gary Antuanne finished just short of medaling in Rio, thanks to a controversial decision that he says still provides motivation for him as he enters his first pro bout.

“It does (fuel me) … it’s a bittersweet thing. I got recognition for losing but a lot of doors have opened,” he said, citing endorsement opportunities that have come his way since the Olympics.

Perhaps best of all those opportunities is Gary Antuanne making his official entrance into pro boxing less than 13 miles from where the family trains, something Gary Sr. is pretty pleased about.

“It’s cool because we can get this fight over and we can go straight home in 15 minutes and get back on the grind,” he said.

Also to their advantage: The long layoff. Gary Jr. hasn’t fought in over a year.

“It helps if you ask me … it gives me the opportunity to allow my body to properly preserve itself the way that it’s supposed to be to actually compete,” he said, citing his history of hand injuries.

“It gives us more time to prepare,” added Gary Sr. “The cake was almost done — it’s about all the way done now.”

Food analogies aside, the Russells like their chances to go 3-0 on Saturday.

“Regardless of what comes, we’re ready for anything,” Gary Allen said. “That’s what being a fighter’s about.”

Rob Woodfork

Rob Woodfork is WTOP's Senior Sports Content Producer, which includes duties as producer and host of the DC Sports Huddle, nightside sports anchor and sports columnist on WTOP.com.

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