Na­tional Har­bor more miss than hit for box­ing

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - THOM LOVERRO

When the MGM Na­tional Har­bor opened in De­cem­ber 2016, I ex­pected it to be a box­ing hot­bed, with na­tion­ally-tele­vised cham­pi­onship bouts on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

Af­ter all, the MGM has long been a player in the box­ing busi­ness, and the Wash­ing­ton area needed the right lo­ca­tion to host top-rated fights.

For what­ever rea­son, they have fallen far short of those ex­pec­ta­tions.

Satur­day night, world feather­weight cham­pion Gary Rus­sell Jr. — from the lo­cal box­ing Rus­sell fam­ily — will de­fend his World Box­ing Coun­cil belt in a Show­time Cham­pi­onship Box­ing show there. It will be just the fifth box­ing show at the casino-ho­tel.

It will be the first one since La­mont Roach Jr. — an­other lo­cal con­tender — fought Rey Perez on an ESPN2 card in Novem­ber 2016.

There should be more ac­tiv­ity for such a prime lo­ca­tion, but it’s been hit and miss. Na­tional Har­bor opened up with three na­tion­ally-tele­vised cham­pi­onship fights in its first five months, and it seemed it was on its way to rais­ing the pro­file of live box­ing in the area, per­haps on a na­tional level.

But since those open­ing three shows, there has been just the Roach card in Novem­ber — one in the past 12 months.

Now, iron­i­cally, Rus­sell re­turns to the MGM Na­tional Har­bor, where he made his last ti­tle de­fense one year ago — in a de­ba­cle that re­sulted in a brawl that spilled out into the crowd from an un­der­card bout be­tween Jose Uz­categui and An­dre Dir­rell, when Uz­categui was dis­qual­i­fied for land­ing a shot af­ter the bell rang to end the eighth round.

Leon Law­son, Jr., iden­ti­fied as Dir­rell’s un­cle, jumped into the ring and nailed Uz­categui with a shot to

his chin, which set off a brawl be­tween cor­ners in the ring, spilling out into the crowd. It nearly es­ca­lated into a riot, but or­der was re­stored and Rus­sell was able to get into the ring for the main event, knock­ing out Os­car Es­can­don in the sev­enth round.

Maybe that scene was the rea­son MGM of­fi­cials seemed to back away from live box­ing at the casino, though pri­vately they have de­nied that.

It was also the last time Rus­sell was in the ring — not ex­actly an ac­tive ca­reer for some­one who hopes to leave their mark as a great feather­weight cham­pion.

Rus­sell (28-1, 17 knock­outs) will be mak­ing his third de­fense of the 126-pound ti­tle since he won it from Jhonny Gon­za­lez in March 2015, stop­ping him in four rounds. He is fac­ing Joseph “JoJo” Diaz, Jr. (26-0, 14 knock­outs) on a show that also fea­tures his broth­ers, Gary An­to­nio and Gary An­tu­anne, both un­beaten — part of the fight­ing Rus­sell fam­ily that in­cludes their fa­ther, who trains them.

The fight­ing Rus­sells train just a few miles from Na­tional Har­bor at the Enigma Box­ing Gym in Capi­tol Heights. In an open work­out and meet with re­porters last week, Rus­sell — as he did nearly a year to the day — spoke about fight­ing in his back­yard.

“Some­times you tend to mag­nify an event be­cause of the fact that it’s in your home­town and it’s on a ma­jor card,” Rus­sell, who turns 30 next month, said. “It tends to take away from the true goal and the true pur­pose. I just need to fo­cus on what the ob­jec­tive is. We never mag­nify the events. I think it’s cool that the neigh­bors and the mail lady and the peo­ple who honk their horns as they see me jog­ging down the street have the abil­ity to get in their car and drive 15 min­utes down the road to be a part of ev­ery­thing that’s go­ing on and get to see a prod­uct of their en­vi­ron­ment.

“I draw my en­ergy from my fam­ily, my friends, the true fans of Gary Rus­sell Jr.,” he said. “That’s what I ul­ti­mately do it for. Re­gard­less of what our pro­fes­sion is, we try to have a sense of fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity for our fam­i­lies and that’s my ob­jec­tive as well. That’s what keeps me mo­ti­vated.”

But to leave a legacy be­hind as one of the great cham­pi­ons from the DMV — and for the MGM Na­tional Har­bor to be­come a na­tional stage for box­ing — it will re­quire more than an an­nual event.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Gary Rus­sell Jr. (right) beat Os­car Lan­don in a WBC feather­weight ti­tle bout at MGM Na­tional Har­bor on May 20, 2017. Rus­sell faces Joseph Diaz Jr. at MGM on Satur­day.

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