Is Mark Magsayo The Next Great Filipino Boxer?

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The Manny Pacquiao protege plans to add his name to the history books when he faces WBC Featherweight World Champion Gary Russell Jr. Saturday night in a PBC on SHOWTIME headliner.

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Mark Magsayo's devastating KO of Julio Ceja | Magsayo vs Ceja

The dynamic Filipino boxer runs miles through the hills overlooking Hollywood, California, every morning at the behest of trainer Freddie Roach, who sees great things in his talented, young protégé.

Manny Pacquiao, circa 2001? No, Mark Magsayo, 2022.

Roach helped mold Pacquiao into one of the greatest fighters of all time at his Wild Card Boxing Club but the eight-division champion’s time has passed. The boxer-turned-senator announced his retirement after losing his welterweight title to Yordenis Ugas in August.

That decision and the fact Nonito Donaire, while still elite, is 39 has opened the door for the next great boxer from the Philippines.

Could it be Magsayo, who will challenge WBC World Featherweight Champion Gary Russell Jr. Saturday night in a PBC on SHOWTIME (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT) event from The Borgata in Atlantic City.

That’s a tricky question. It seems likely that Magsayo will become titleholder at some point given his ability and punching power, which Roach says rivals that of the young fighter’s boxing idol. However, it might not be a good idea to ask whether he could be the next Manny Pacquiao.

“I have a lot of pressure in my career right now,” Magsayo said. “A lot of people are speaking of the next Manny Pacquiao. I tell them, ‘There is no next Manny Pacquiao. There’s only one Manny Pacquiao.

“I’m going to do my best to make a big name in the sport, do everything in the gym, work hard so my dream of becoming a world champion comes true.”

Magsayo has a lot in common with Pacquiao, who promotes him. The native of Tagbilaran in the Bohol province, an island in the south of the Philippines, grew up in poverty. He sold ice cream on the streets to help his family make ends meet.

And, like Pacquiao, he started boxing at a young age. He was eight years old when he followed a friend into the local gym and made it a second home.

He didn’t have to look far for inspiration. It was at that time, in 2003, that Pacquiao knocked out Hall of Famer Marco Antonio Barrera in 11 rounds, a breakthrough victory that sent many in the country into a tizzy. A superstar was emerging.

“I remember thinking, ‘I want to be like him,’” Magsayo said. “He’s been my hero since I was a kid.”

Magsayo made his mark early. “Magnifico” reportedly was a four-time national amateur champion, an achievement not even Pacquiao could claim. And, after turning pro at 17, his natural quickness and ability to hurt his opponents allowed him to string together one dominating performance after another on domestic cards.

Team Pacquiao began to take notice around 2017, when Magsayo was still fighting for Cebu-based ALA Promotions. Magsayo met Pacquiao for the first time that year on a visit to the Senate of the Philippines, although he said he was too star struck to speak.

Three years later, when he became a free agent early in 2020, he signed a contract to be promoted by Pacquiao.

I’m ready to make my own name, my own history in boxing. Undefeated Featherweight Contender - Mark Magsayo

“I remember when we sat down to talk to him about signing with us,” said Sean Gibbons, president of MP Promotions. “The plan was for him to come train with Freddie Roach, to give him two fights in the U.S., then a title eliminator and then a world title fight. Lo and behold, he arrived in the middle of the pandemic in July 2021, had his first fight in October, second in April and third as the co-feature to the senator’s fight [against Ugas].

“And now, in the fourth fight, he’s fighting for a title. It’s pretty frickin’ amazing that things worked out as they did. He’s a man of destiny.”

That doesn’t mean Magsayo (23-0, 16 KOs) was a polished jewel when he landed at the Wild Card. He wasn’t. He had those natural tools and a solid skill set but he didn’t even train properly.

“One day we were having a discussion,” Roach said. “We were talking about road work. He looked at me and said, ‘I don’t do road work.’ I said, ‘Wait a minute. You’re a fighter. You have to run every day, at least five days a week.’

“He started running and things came easily to him. He’s much faster and he’s hitting much harder. He loves running now.”

And he’s still evolving at 26 years old even though he’s ranked No. 2 by the WBC and will be fighting for a world title for the first time.

He was fortunate to emerge with a split-decision victory over Rigoberto Hermosillo in October 2020, when his inactivity allowed his Mexican foe to be competitive. And he was behind on all three cards when he stopped Julio Ceja in a viral moment last August, when again he wasn’t busy enough to Roach’s taste.

Of course, one can look at these fights two ways. One, he has lapses that could prove costly at some point. Or, two, he finds ways to win difficult fights. Roach isn’t alarmed.

“I think that’s being a little doubtful of himself,” said the trainer, who implored Magsayo to execute in the ring against Ceja what he had practiced in the gym. “I’m glad he believed in me and trusted in me and went out and finished the job.

“I told him, ‘You can’t give me a heart attack by losing that many rounds. We have an agreement now.”

We will see how far Magsayo has come on Jan. 22. Russell (31-1, 18 KOs) is the longest-reigning champion in boxing and one of the most respected, which is why he’s about a 3-1 favorite going into the fight.

Magsayo already knows that dreams come true, however. He met his idol, who later became his promoter. He was welcomed into the gym of Roach, who’s also an icon in the Philippines because of his association with Pacquiao. He shared a card with Pacquiao.

Now he has the opportunity to realize the ultimate dream. Again, no one can replace Pacquiao. But if he can pull of an upset against Russell, he will have taken a significant step toward carving out his own niche in Filipino boxing history.

There is room for more one hero, right?

“When I started boxing, I didn’t know how to throw a punch. I just trained,” Magsayo said. “I lost my first fight. I lost my second fight. I lost my third fight. My father told me, ‘Mark, stop boxing. You have no future there,’ but I continued to train. I won my fourth fight and then won and won and won. It’s my passion.

“Manny gave me advice. He said, ‘Train hard and don’t forget God, who will give you strength. I’ve done that. I’m ready to make my own name, my own history in boxing.”

For a closer look at Russell vs Magasayo, check out our fight night page. 

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