The first world title fight to feature an Asian fighter in 2022 saw a notable upset in what was a bout that left us scratching our heads rather than being really impressed by either man. That was despite the fact the bout featured one of the best natural talented from the USA taking on one of the best natural talents of the Philippines.
The bout in question saw unbeaten Filipino Mark Magsayo (24-0, 16) score a major upset over long reigning WBC Featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr (31-2, 18) , in a bout that was confusing, confounding and one that really, hopefully, isn't a sign of what 2022 will bring.
Early on Magsayo started really, really well. He used his speed, size, and youth really effectively to out boxing, out fight and out-speed the lightning quick Russell Jr. It was the perfect start for the Filipino who looked the boss, and looked like he was going to put on a career defining performance. Sadly though he is Mark Magsayo, a sensationally talented fighter who seems to be his own worse enemy at times. After making Russell Jr look second best through the first 3 rounds, he then seemed confused when Russell Jr changed tactics.
In round 4 Magsayo started well, and even seemed to hurt Russell Jr early in the round, before allowing Russell Jr to create space and distance, which Magsayo happy walked into. It was a round that Magsayo won, but set the stage for what was going to happen through the middle of the fight.
The middle rounds saw the Filipino trudge forward, not throwing nearly enough, being made to miss, and then being pot-shotted by Russell Jr who's jab completely vanished in round 5, and instead he become a totally 1-handed fighter, landing little more then straight left hands. Those straight left hands were limited in number, but landed at a high accuracy level, whilst Magsayo came forward with limit success.
The limited effective pressure work from Magsayo, and clean accuracy from Russell Jr allowed Russell to fight his way back in to the bout, despite fighting with 1 hand, and despite not doing a lot himself. He was just defensive smart and offensively opportunistic against a challenger who has often lost himself in the middle of fights, something he did again here.
Thankfully for Magsayo it seemed somebody, likely trainer Freddie Roach, managed to light a rocket under his ass as we went into the final rounds, and Magsayo was a lot more offensively minded, with an increased output in rounds 10 and 11. Something he needed big time to re-establish his lead. Surprisingly however he failed to keep up the same intensity in the 12th round, allowing, once again, for Russell Jr to do what he could to essentially steal a round and make the cards very close.
After 12 rounds it seemed almost impossible to make a case that Russell could have won, but it seemed like a legitimate argument could have been made, on the basis of round by round scoring, for the bout to have been very close. Magsayo had won his rounds clearly. He had won them dominantly, especially early on, but Russell Jr had fiddled his way through enough rounds to make things tight.
That tightness showed on the cards, which were 114-114, 115-113 and 115-113, giving Magsayo a majority decision.
Given the Gary Russell Jr that Magsayo fought the result was performance was horribly under-whelming, but will be covered up by the result. It was another poor performance from Magsayo, where he has just managed to get over the line, and we do worry this reign is not going to be a long one for the Filipino unless he sorts out the mental side of things.
As for Russell Jr, it's hard to have sympathy for someone with his talented, but no real drive to be a star. His was his first bout in almost 2 years, and now at the age of 33 he could well find himself in the "who needs him club?" especially after this performance the fact he seemed to come in to the bout with an injury.
The bout promised a lot, delivered a surprise, but will not be well remembered at the end of the year.
World Title Results
Whether you like them or not World Titles add prestige to any bout as a result we've included the results of world title bouts in this special section.