Russell eager to make Jan. 17 pro debut

U.S. Olympic boxer Gary Russell Jr. will put the disappointing end to his amateur career behind him when he makes his professional debut Jan. 17.

Despite entering the 2008 Beijing Games as a strong bantamweight medal favorite, Russell, of Capitol Heights, Md., never boxed in the Olympics -- he collapsed trying to shed the last two pounds in an attempt to make weight for his 119-pound first-round match. Russell was disqualified.

Although he has not yet partnered with a promoter, Russell, 20, has signed with powerful manager Al Haymon, who guides the careers of former middleweight champion Jermain Taylor, welterweight titleholder Andre Berto, junior middleweight titlist Vernon Forrest, former light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver, interim junior middleweight titlist Paul Williams and heavyweight contender Cristobal Arreola, among others.

Russell, who will fight in the 126-pound featherweight division, will face an opponent to be named in a four-round bout. His debut will come on the undercard of Berto's title defense against Luis Collazo at a site to be determined.

"I am ready to take my skills and talent onto the professional ranks," Russell said. "I have dreamt of becoming a world champion since I was young and I believe that Al and his team will help me to get to that point.

"I believe my style is perfectly suited to professional boxing. I can't wait to take off the headgear, put on smaller gloves and showcase all of my skills."

Russell, who was 190-11 as an amateur, will continue to be trained by his father, Gary Russell Sr.

His Olympic flameout notwithstanding, Russell was a decorated amateur. At 16, he won a U.S. national title and national Golden Gloves title. At 17, as the youngest member of the U.S. team, he received a bronze at the 2005 world championships. To make the Olympic team, Russell came from the losers bracket to win six consecutive bouts to earn his berth.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.