At age 29, Gary Russell Jr. already is planning for retirement.
Not that the Washington-area boxer is in any particular hurry to pack away his gloves for good — there are, after all, more titles to be won and prize money to bank — but Russell nonetheless has given plenty of thought to an exit strategy by the time he reaches his mid-30s, if not sooner.
It’s a blueprint years in the making for the World Boxing Council featherweight champion. It stems from an inclination to spend more time with his family, particularly his wife and children, while bidding farewell to the brutality tied to the southpaw’s profession.
“I’ve been competing since I was 7 years old. It’s a lot of time, a lot of time that I’ve spent grinding, and I want to just be able to reap the harvest for myself and my family,” said Russell (28-1, 17 knockouts), who is set to defend his belt against mandatory challenger Joseph “JoJo” Diaz Jr. (26-0, 14 KOs) on Saturday night at MGM National Harbor. The 12-round co-main event will be televised on Showtime. “Regardless what the situation is, I always say, no matter what your occupation is, you want a sense of financial stability for yourself and your family.
“I’m to the point in my career where, honestly, I’ve got maybe six more fights left in me that I’m willing to do. We want to maximize everything. We want to maximize our revenue.”
Fiscal windfalls aside, Russell also has his sights pointed toward unifying titles, having mentioned the possibility of fighting World Boxing Association featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz or moving up in weight to face undefeated WBC lightweight champion Mikey Garcia.
Beyond that, Russell has indicated the farewell he envisions under ideal circumstances would be avenging the only loss of his career, which came to Vasyl Lomachenko, rated the No. 2 pound-for-pound fighter in the world by The Ring magazine, four years ago via majority decision.
But before his team can begin entertaining formal overtures for other bouts, Russell must contend with Diaz, a 2012 U.S. Olympian and fellow southpaw who’s heading into his first world title fight.
“I will be the bigger man come fight night, and I will break [Russell] down physically and mentally,” said Diaz, 25. “He just better give me the credit I deserve once I beat him and not blame his inactivity for being a factor in his loss.”
Russell will be fighting for the first time since May 20, 2017, when the 2008 Olympian beat Oscar Escandon via technical knockout at 59 seconds in Round 7 of their bout, which was also at MGM National Harbor.
The lengthy layoff is nothing new for Russell, who has fought three times combined since 2015. Russell last fought multiple times in a year in 2014, facing three opponents, including Lomachenko for the World Boxing Organization featherweight championship.
“We want to fight more. You’re dealing with a lot of politics behind the scenes that kind of limit him fighting two or maybe three times a year,” said his father and trainer, Gary Russell Sr., hinting that other titleholders at 126 pounds are ducking his oldest son. “But you’re given a lemon, and we make lemonade. We stay in the gym. It preserves his body. He gets to critique certain things and, when it’s time to fight, he’s physically and mentally ready.”
The results confirm as much, with two of Russell’s past three fights ending inside of four rounds.
Russell’s title defense this time is part of a split-site doubleheader also featuring WBC light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson putting his belt on the line against two-division world champion Badou Jack at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre.
Russell-Diaz is the rare bout negotiated between adversarial matchmakers. Russell counts Al Haymon as a primary adviser, while Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions represents Diaz.
Also on Saturday’s card are two of Russell’s younger brothers: super lightweight Gary Antuanne Russell and bantamweight Gary Antonio Russell. All four of Russell’s sons bear the same first name as the fighting family’s patriarch.
The three fighting Russell brothers were on the same card, including Antuanne’s professional debut, when Gary Russell Jr. headlined last May at MGM National Harbor in the first bout of his career in his home area. His two younger siblings also won that night.
During his ascent in the sport, Russell was adamant about not fighting in the area until he had secured a world title, which he claimed March 28, 2015, via a fourth-round TKO of Jhonny Gonzalez at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas.
Now, for the second time in as many years, Russell’s supporters won’t have far to travel to witness, at least by his account, one of the final bouts of his career, with his home town of Capitol Heights, Md., roughly 12 miles from the casino resort in Oxon Hill.
“It’s amazing to be fighting at home,” said Russell, who added that he doesn’t expect the fight against Diaz to last close to the distance. “It’s cool to know that the people I see around all the time will be able to get in the car and drive 15 minutes to come watch this massacre. I can’t wait.”
More from Post Sports: