As the month of January 2022 has been a spotty one in terms of the Boxing schedule due in part to the ongoing global COVID-19 epidemic, there obviously has not been the usual activity in terms of action inside of the ring that we saw in 2021 and before the epidemic began in late 2019. The first notable world championship fight in 2022 however, did take place on January 22nd at the Borgata Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, NJ. This observer is referring to the battle for the WBC Featherweight world championship between champion Gary Russell and undefeated WBC number three rated contender Mark Magsayo.
Perhaps it is simply the point of view of yours truly as a veteran Boxing historian and writer, but this encounter did not seem to have much in the way of an abundance of hype in the weeks and days prior to it taking place. This could be due to the circumstances of the ongoing epidemic and possible uncertainty as to whether or not the fight would take place as scheduled. While this is only speculation my part, it was refreshing in a sense that this was simply two highly skilled fighters facing off for a world championship. Although the recent history of the 126lb. Featherweight division has not had the type of name recognition value that the division has enjoyed in decades past both due to fighters either retiring or moving up in weight, this was perhaps the beginning of a new era for the division.
In terms of how the two fighters matched up, this figured to be an encounter between a boxer/puncher in the champion Russell going against an unbeaten, but untested challenger a Magsayo. This fight also featured the dynamic of a southpaw going against an orthodox fighter. What stood out almost immediately was the tactical approach in which Magsayo implemented his offense. Under some circumstances when an orthodox fighter faces a southpaw, there can be difficulty for the orthodox fighter to get into a consistent rhythm offensively. This was a case where Magsayo was able to establish distance as well as attack in sporadic spurts with a variety of offense ranging from straight right hands, hooks with both hands, as well as uppercuts, and mixing all the above between the body and the head of the champion Russell. It was also noticeable that whenever Russell would land something significant, Magsayo with immediately counter punch.
What was also clear was the champion seemed to have difficulty with his right shoulder, which can turn out to be crucial if you are southpaw fighter because any injury to your right hand or shoulder will compromise your lead hand. As the fight progressed, this is essentially what appeared to be happening as Russell was very sporadic in throwing his right hand and this allowed Magsayo to control the tempo of the combat as well as outwork the champion. Although Russell had successfully defended his title five times going into this fight, it should not be overlooked that this was his first bout in nearly two years as his last bout was in February 2020 shortly before the COVID-19 epidemic began to significantly change day to day life here in the United States and created a lengthy shutdown for many sports including Boxing during that year. Whether or not Russell’s sporadic offense was attributed to an injury as well as inactivity is debatable, but in my eyes Magsayo was doing what all fighters who challenge for a world championship are expected to do, bring the fight to the champion.
Despite seemingly controlling the tempo of the combat, as the fight progressed into the middle and late rounds of the scheduled twelve round world championship bout, Magsayo slightly seemed to decrease his activity, perhaps due to fatigue. This created an opening for the champion who had success in spots in landing his left hand and at times being able to catch the challenger as he came forward with the left hand. Even though I felt that Magsayo had carried the fight with his greater activity and ring generalship throughout much of the bout, I did wonder whether or not what Russell was able to accomplish though sporadic particularly over the second half of the fight would be enough to earn rounds on the scorecards.
After all, even the most seasoned of observers of which yours truly is one, can never know which way three official judges may be leaning in their scoring of a fight. In many cases, it can come down to what amounts to an educated guess based on the experience that one accumulates from watching fights on every level and every form that the sport of Boxing has to offer. In the interest of honesty with the reader, I will say as a Boxing lifer, there have been more than a few times that I have been surprised and have disagreed with an official decision based on what I saw in a fight.
Sometimes in addition to what amounts to an educated guess can also be influenced by a gut feeling that one gets. This was a fight where both fighters had clear moments of success. The question that developed in my mind as the bout approached the final three rounds was whether or not sporadic counter punching by Russell would be enough to overcome the greater activity of Magsayo as well as how the challenger seemingly dictated the combat from the outset. While my gut feeling was that Magsayo had done enough to win the fight on my scorecard, I had learned long ago never to dismiss the possibility of the judges seeing things differently. It was also indisputable that Russell was able to make up some ground down the stretch and at minimum I felt that the possibility was there to see some narrow scorecards in the sense of close scores being rendered.
As it would turn out the instinct of this observer to not dismiss how the three judges may have saw things turned out to be correct in terms of seeing close scorecards as at the end of the twelve round world championship bout, two of three official judges scored the fight 115-113 or seven rounds to five in favor of Mark Magsayo making him the winner and new champion via majority decision, while the third judge had the fight even at six rounds a piece or 114-114 in points. Unofficially, I had Magsayo winning the fight eight rounds to four or 116-112 in points.
At the end of the day, despite what I felt was a significant lead that Magsayo was able to build early on and through the middle rounds, what things amounted to here was essentially a one round swing in terms of both my unofficial score as well as the official scores. If the reader is a little confused allow me to elaborate. If one round were scored differently on my unofficial card, I would have ended up with the same 115-113 scorecard as two of the three official judges. If one of those judges had scored one round differently, they would have arrived at the same score as the third official judge in rendering a draw, which obviously changes the outcome of the fight. Simply put, it turned out to be a very close and competitive fight particularly down the stretch than what I observed over the first seven rounds in which I felt Magsayo had done enough to pull away with the fight in addition to winning a round down the stretch. It is something that unfortunately has become a habit of mine in saying over the years, but when it comes to close fights, it will often boil down to what a judge prefers in their own criteria in how they score based on clean punching, effective aggressiveness, ring generalship, and defense. By its very nature, judging is selective and obviously opinions can vary.
Should there be a rematch? This observer would say yes, based not only on the fact that Russell had held onto the WBC Featherweight world championship for over six years, but also what turned out to be a close fight. How soon a rematch can be made will likely come down to the condition of Gary Russell’s shoulder as well as whether or not the World Boxing Council (WBC) will mandate a rematch take place and/or if there was a rematch clause in the contract for this fight. Without getting into the various elements of what amounts to red tape that can prevent a rematch from happening within a reasonable timeframe, if Russell is healthy and does not require much downtime from the apparent injury to his right shoulder, and if both fighters want to fight each other again, why not? It was a good and competitive fight after all.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
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