Mark Magsayo can be the next face of Filipino boxing if he beats Rey Vargas

HOLLYWOOD — While Manny Pacquaio ended his legendary career losing to Yordenis Ugas, protege Mark Magsayo shone under his idol’s card with a vicious knockout win over Julio Ceja.

Pacquaio officially retired from boxing in September, and while there will never be another Pacquiao, there is an opening for a compatriot to be the new flag bearer for Filipino boxing.

Nonito Donaire was destroyed in two rounds by Naoya Inoue in June, and the nearly 40-year-old is being asked to retire. Donnie Nietes is also 40 and fights Kazuto Ioka on July 13 for the super flyweight title, but his best days are behind him. Jerwin Ancajas’ more than five-year reign as world champion came to an end in February.

Jayson Mama suffered his first career loss in a world title shot against Sunny Edwards in December. John Riel Casimero was accused of sexual abuse and was stripped of his WBO bantamweight title in May after twice failing to fight in scheduled bouts.

Although Rene Cuarto is currently the strawweight title holder, the Filipino fighter who seems to have the makings of the next best fighter in the country is Magsayo.

Magsayo, 27 (24-0, 16 KOs) is the WBC featherweight champion, a belt he owns after beating Gary Russell Jr. in January. Magsayo is being promoted by Pacquaio, and the student will look to further prove his promise and potential in his first title defense on July 6 against former world champion and mandatory challenger Rey Vargas (35-0, 22 KOs) .

Magsayo’s tough test will take place at the Alamodome in San Antonio, the same venue where Pacquiao enjoyed his breakout performance in 2003 with a stunning stoppage victory over Marco Antonio Barrera.

Watching on TV in the Philippines that night was eight-year-old Magsayo, who decided to pursue a career as a professional boxer immediately after the fight.

Magsayo continued to achieve his goals and even ended up training and fighting alongside Pacquiao, who made his professional debut in 1995 – six months before Magsayo was born.

“It’s an honor to follow the same path as Manny Pacquiao,” Magsayo told ESPN in an interview following a recent practice at Griffith Park.

“My dream came true when I won the world title. I’m even more motivated now as a world champion. My new goal is to become a unified champion. I know I have to work harder to improve. .”

Shortly after Russell’s seven-year title run ended, Magsayo, his wife Frances, and Manny Pacquiao Promotions president Sean Gibbons flew to Makati City to visit Pacquaio at his home.

During the 23-day trip to the Philippines, Bohol-born Magsayo found he had become a star.

“Wherever we were going, it all stopped,” Frances said. “Kids were running up to him and asking for pictures. It wasn’t normal for him, but he’s happy that people are receiving him warmly and being proud.”

“There’s a bit of pressure when they look at me like that,” admitted Mark. “I am proud to bring honor to my country. I am so happy that they support me. I have to make a name for myself in boxing and I will give my best in every fight and opportunity.”

Pacquaio told the reunion how proud he was and reaffirmed that hard work will push Magsayo to new stratospheres. The group also watched the fight tape on Vargas.

“I was so happy that he took the time to talk with me. It was surreal,” Magsayo said. “He told me the key to beating Vargas was working on footwork and head movement, staying humble and praying. I believe in God and I believe in Manny Pacquaio.” Magsayo is trying to emulate the same formula that made Pacquaio a generational fighter.

Magsayo trains at the Wild Card Boxing gym with Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach, who cornered Pacquiao for two decades. Magsayo’s career is shaped by Pacquiao’s longtime manager Gibbons. Magsayo even does the same workouts that Pacquiao made famous in the Hollywood Hills.

Equally important, in order to become a fan favorite and must-have product, Magsayo is following in Pacquiao’s footsteps and taking on all comers of all sizes.

Vargas is a physically imposing Mexican puncher who will sport a nearly five-inch height and three-inch reach advantage against Magsayo. Vargas, 31, was a super bantamweight champion and defended his title five times, but he’s only fought once since July 2019 – a 10-round decision win over Leonardo Baez in November.

“Recent activity is going to be a big key in this fight, and Mark is sharper than sharper,” Gibbons said. “Mark’s demeanor and work ethic haven’t changed and he’s more determined now than he was when he beat Russell. Success hasn’t gone to his head.”

Gibbons brought in a group of sparring partners including Juan Carlos Burgos, Eduardo Baez, Bryan Chevalier and Domnique Crowder to emulate Vargas’ rugged style.

Magsayo’s team also includes Roach disciple and Filipino assistant coach Marvin Somodio, dietitian Jeaneth Aro, a nutritionist for the Filipino Olympians, and strength and conditioning coach Pedro Garcia. Frances is the key cog behind the scenes playing the hybrid role of wife, manager and problem solver.

Roach envisions Magsayo fighting close and unleashing combinations in order to earn the win against Vargas.

“The trip has been a lot of fun. He’s a great worker and trains really hard. Mark is improving all the time, getting stronger and hitting harder,” Roach said. “He works the body better. He listens to me pretty well. When I tell him to finish the fight strong, it’s business and he knows exactly what that means. Vargas doesn’t have a lot of weaknesses, but if we break the body down and take off the legs, Vargas will fall.”

Magsayo doesn’t look smooth though, showing a few wrinkles in his game every time he steps up.

“We found out in the last two fights that Mark has what it takes to be a world champion,” Gibbons said.

Against Ceja, Magsayo was dropped on the cards and on his way to a decision loss when he rebounded to score a remarkable 10th round knockout.

In the fight against Russell, Russell suffered a shoulder injury in the fourth round and was outshot 150-69. Yet Magsayo still managed to sneak through the judges’ cards by majority decision with scores of 115- 113, 115-113 and 114-114. .

If Magsayo gets past Vargas, Gibbons’ plan is to pit Magsayo against four-division champion Leo Santa Cruz later this year.

Magsayo understands the magnitude of the game ahead.

“I have to win this fight against Vargas,” he said.

If Magsayo can beat Russell, Vargas and Santa Cruz in 2022, he will definitely be a favorite for Fighter of the Year – an honor the BWAA has bestowed on Pacquiao three times.

Magsayo believes his breakout year will take him even further and land his ticket to the Hall of Fame if he beats the trio.

“Winning the title doesn’t define a fighter for life professionally or financially,” Gibbons said. “He’s making a lot of money right now, but the next [potentially against Santa Cruz] could be life changing. Then he can start living the American dream.”

Magsayo is already pre-approved for a loan, and he wants to use his earnings to ditch the Hollywood apartment he’s renting and buy a house in Los Angeles, just like he did in the Philippines.

He already holds the title of world champion. A priceless and prestigious title that once belonged to Pacquaio could also be won if the wins keep coming.

“I think he’s the next face of Filipino boxing,” Roach said.

Gibbons doubled down on his statement.

“He’s like Manny Pacquaio – grounded, humble and a man of the people,” Gibbons said. “It’s his destiny – Pacquiao passed the torch to Mark. I really believe in that. If he beats Vargas, he will absolutely be the new face of Filipino boxing.”

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