NEW YORK — Even amid violent exchanges in the center of the ring, with boxing fans at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center hollering at a fever pitch, Gary Antuanne Russell blocked out the din and allowed the familiar, comforting voice of his late father, Gary Russell Sr., to guide him.
The decisive punch was a right uppercut early in the sixth that sent Barthelemy to the mat for just the third time in his career, compelling referee Shada Murdaugh to halt the proceedings at 50 seconds.
Patrons roundly booed the stoppage in a bout in which all three judges had Russell ahead on their scorecards.
“I felt his presence when I first entered the ring,” Russell said of his father after running his record to 16-0, all by knockout. “It came natural. I said, ‘Dad, I know you’re here.’ ”
Russell Sr. had been in his son’s corner for every bout in his promising career until this encounter, the first for the Russells since the patriarch of the established boxing family died in late May. The eldest Russell brother, Gary Jr., since has assumed the role of lead trainer for Antuanne.
Complications from Type-2 diabetes in addition to strokes robbed the Russells of the only trainer in their lives, but Russell Sr. left indelible words of pugilistic wisdom for all his fighting progeny.
“I felt him in the locker room. I felt him in the corner,” said Russell Jr., adding he was somewhat surprised at the stoppage coming that early. “Energy is transferrable. It doesn’t matter where you are, so we’re still utilizing it, and we’re still using it as fuel.”
Russell Sr.’s health had been declining drastically over the past year, with the most severe manifestation the amputation of his left foot in December. Still, Russell Sr. managed to attend Russell Jr.’s most recent fight in January in Atlantic City, where he lost to Filipino Mark Magsayo in a debatable majority decision.
The following month Russell Sr. accompanied the family to Las Vegas to be ringside to watch Antuanne beat Viktor Postol via technical knockout in the 10th and final round. Though using a wheelchair, Russell Sr. still provided Antuanne direction during the fight from outside the ropes.
The triumph, the most impressive of Antuanne’s career, also was the last fight in person for Russell Sr. in a life that included four sons winning national Golden Gloves titles as well as Russell Jr. and Antuanne making the U.S. Olympic team.
Another son, Gary Antonio Russell, 29, is an undefeated bantamweight with championship aspirations. Gary Allan Russell III, a former amateur boxer, also is heavily involved in the family business, assisting with training at Russell’s Enigma gym in Prince George’s County.
In the moments before the opening bell Saturday, Antuanne gazed skyward, acknowledging his father’s presence in spirit during introductions. The boxer from Capitol Heights pointed toward the area where his father always sat by ringside, nodding his head in approval.
Then Antuanne, as has been his calling card since he turned professional, came out swinging from the outset, applying pressure with stinging jabs and drawing immediate applause.
Having faced little resistance through his first 15 bouts, Antuanne absorbed some of the more damaging blows to date from an opponent 10 years his senior but with a two-inch reach advantage. Barthelemy (29-2-1, 12 KOs), at his most effective counterpunching, did not shy from trading with the heavier-handed Russell, either.
A punch in the second round briefly staggered Antuanne, who used a clinch to blunt Barthelemy, a former two-division champion, from continuing to come forward. Barthelemy also switched from orthodox stance to southpaw, causing Antuanne to modify his strategy on the fly.
In between rounds, Russell Jr., the former World Boxing Council 126-pound champion for close to seven years, advised Antuanne to remain aggressive on the inside, leading to the punch that pushed him to a victory in an arena where he had fought several times, in each instance with Russell Sr. right by his side.
Barthelemy “tried to pressure me with an onslaught,” Antuanne said. “I kept my composure. I went to the body. I came upstairs when I had to come upstairs. I just executed our game plan. It’s not about what my opponent is doing. It’s about what I do.”