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Thursday, May 18, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Gary Antuanne Russell — of the battling Gary Russell family — hopes to be a real estate developer someday.

“Real estate is in my future,” Gary Antuanne said.


Well, he, his brothers — Gary Russell Jr. and Gary Antonio Russell — and their father, Gary Russell Sr. (yes, all the first names are “Gary”), may help develop one of the prime pieces of property in the DMV, the MGM National Harbor.


AUDIO: Movie producer Mark Ciardi with Thom Loverro


The Battling Russells may help develop the casino into one of the top boxing venues on the East Coast, defining the boxing identity on the palace on the hill overlooking the Potomac River.

Gary Russell Jr., the world featherweight champion, will defend his World Boxing Council featherweight title Saturday night in a Showtime nationally televised boxing card at the MGM National Harbor. On the card with Gary Jr., will be his two brothers, Gary Antuanne, making his professional debut, and Gary Antonio, an undefeated bantamweight fighter, marking the first time three brothers will fight on a professional card.

“It’s going to be history in the making,” said Gary Jr., who will face challenger Oscar Escandon. “We’re in familiar territory with making history. We were the first set of four brothers to win the National Golden Gloves and I don’t see anyone breaking our record any time soon. I believe in a dynasty and I’m excited for my dad to see all of his hard work come together on fight night.”

The headquarters for that dynasty could be the MGM National Harbor — less than 20 miles from the home where Gary Sr. trained all three of his sons in their basement.

It’s conceivable that, given the amateur success of the three brothers — all national amateur champions — that you could have a Russell fighting regularly in the new, glitzy hometown venue that could change boxing in the Washington area.

Ironically, Gary Jr. was supposed to open the place — headline the first fight at the new casino — on March 11 against Escandon. However, that bout was postponed when Escandon suffered a back injury while training.

The debut boxing show at the MGM National Harbor took place four weeks later, in a show headlined by a rival of Gary Jr., World Boxing Organization super featherweight title holder Vasyl Lomanchenko, who had handed Gary Jr. his only professional loss in a majority decision three years ago.

Since then, there has been another boxing show, pushing the Battling Russells back to the third such event at the new casino.

“I was disappointed that everything got backed up,” said Gary Sr. “Then they brought in Lomachenko, and I’m like, ‘Oh no they didn’t bring him in our back yard.’ We took a loss to this kid. I couldn’t believe it. But we just got to roll on with it.”

Gary Jr. said he didn’t let the disappointment of not being able to open up the place get to him. “The postponement didn’t bother me,” he said. “I can’t get upset about stuff that I can’t control. When you have two elite athletes pushing themselves to the limit, injuries occur. It gave me more time to rest my body properly. We’re definitely ready now.”

Gary Jr. has been ready for this for some time. After 28 professional fights, with a record of 27-1 and 16 knockouts, this will be the first time he has fought in front of hometown fans.

“I didn’t want to fight at home until I was a world champion,” Gary Jr. said. “And to fight with my brothers on the same night is very exciting.”

What adds to the excitement is the venue — the MGM National Harbor. It is like no other place that has hosted what has been a lively, active boxing scene in the DMV.

Boxing locally — nationally televised cards and club shows — has been presented in a number of different venues, including the old US Airways Arena, D.C. Armory, Rosecroft Raceway near the MGM casino, the Washington Convention Center, the ABC Sports Complex in Springfield, Va., Eagle Bank Arena at George Mason University, the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, Md., Michael’s Eighth Avenue Ballroom in Glen Burnie, Md., and a host of other smaller locations.

The Verizon Center, when it was known as the MCI Center, has only hosted two professional boxing shows — a Don King card in 1999 that featured three local world champions, middleweight title holders William Joppy and Keith Holmes, and junior welterweight world champion Sharmba Mitchell – and former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson’s last professional fight, his 2005 debacle loss to Kevin McBride.

A casino, though, brings with it a whole new level of boxing financial power, particularly one with the boxing history of a company like MGM. With three cards within six weeks of each other, the casino has showed it intends to set up shop perhaps as the center of the DMV’s boxing universe.

And perhaps the stars in that universe will be the Battling Russells.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.


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