The unbeaten Filipino Warrior is looking to make a statement when he defends his WBC 126-pound crown against the undefeated Rey Vargas Saturday night on PBC on SHOWTIME.
Mark Magsayo started boxing when he was an eight-year-old living in poverty. He promptly lost his first three fights, which elicited a predictable reaction from his father: “Just stop boxing. You have no future in it.”
Thank goodness for the Filipino’s sake that he defied dad.
Almost 20 years later the 27-year-old protégé of Manny Pacquiao is unbeaten and a world champion, the result of a stunning victory over long-reigning WBC featherweight titleholder Gary Russell Jr. this past January.
An additional reward is the ability to improve the standard of living of those closest to him, including his parents. He recently bought them a home in Bohol province and set them up in the baking business.
“I didn’t believe my father,” said Magsayo, who makes his first defense against undefeated former champ Rey Vargas on July 9 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, live on SHOWTIME (9p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT). “I believed in myself, that I could do this. I trained hard and I won and won and won. I’m proud of myself. I worked hard since I was eight and my dream came true. I’m a world champion.
“And now I bought my family a house. I’m so happy. It’s way better than before.”
Magsayo (24-0, 16 KOs) didn’t have to look far for inspiration when he stepped into the gym for the first time. It was around the time, in 2003, that Pacquiao knocked out Mexican star Marco Antonio Barrera in his most important victory to date.
The wide-eyed young Filipino watched the fight on television and knew instantaneously what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to be like Pacquiao.
Magsayo has the natural gifts necessary to succeed. He’s quick handed and has one-punch knockout power, just like Pacquiao at that weight. He even has Pacquiao’s thick, powerful legs, one reason the future Hall of Famer was so durable throughout his career.
And he has one more thing in common with Pacquiao, who is now his promoter: The dedication required to continue to grow as a fighter.
“They have the same work ethic,” said their common trainer, Freddie Roach. “They just love to train hard and conquer every obstacle put in front of them. Mark truly believes in himself and his abilities. That comes from doing his homework and coming into Wild Card prepared every day.
“And, yes, he’s getting better. He’s 20% better than he was two months ago. He’s never satisfied. And that might be the key to everything about him.”
One thing Magsayo doesn’t do is try to be the next Manny Pacquiao, which would be setting himself up for failure. As he put it, “There’s only one Manny Pacquiao.”
“ I worked hard since I was eight and my dream came true. I’m a world champion. ” Undefeated WBC World Featherweight Champion - Mark Magsayo
Magsayo’s plan is to continue to use Pacquiao as inspiration, take the Filipino senator’s advice whenever he offers it and carve out his own niche in the sport, however that might look in the end.
He’s certainly off to a good start. He dominated second-tier opposition during his rise to prominence and continued to win on the next level, most notably victories over Julio Ceja in August of last year and the majority decision over Russell.
Magsayo showed vulnerability in the fight with Ceja, who was leading on all cards after nine rounds. Roach said he needs work on his movement. However, in the 10th round, Magsayo stung Ceja with an overhand right and followed moments later with two more rights that rendered Ceja unconscious and ended the fight in an instant.
The sensational knockout dazzled fans and earned him a shot at Russell, one of the most-respected boxers in the business.
Magsayo stunned the boxing world by winning a majority decision in a strange fight, one in which Russell, a southpaw, injured (or re-injured) his right shoulder in the fourth round. The slick veteran used movement and his left hand to fight Magsayo on even terms the rest of the way.
Some have suggested the injury was a gift to Magsayo, who might not have won otherwise. He thinks Russell might’ve been fortunate.
“If that shoulder is not hurt, maybe there’s a knockout there,” he said. “My counter was very effective that fight. My counter and my speed and my power was very effective. And that time that he got hurt he was always running.
“It’s hard to catch him when your opponent is running and is a good fighter.”
Magsayo learned a great deal in that fight. For example, he figured out how to adjust after Russell changed his tactics. And he’ll use the perception that he was fortunate to get the decision as added motivation going into the fight with Vargas (35-0, 22 KOs), a tall, talented boxer.
Also, you know he has put in the work. He has been training for three full months, a clear indication that his intention is to be an enduring champion.
“Conditioning is going to be a huge part of succeeding next Saturday and he didn’t cut one corner,” Roach said. “Physically, he’s there. Mark knows he is in tough against a taller fighter. He’s prepared to go into battle.”
He always is.
For a closer look at Mark Magsayo, check out his fighter page.