'There’s no next Manny Pacquiao': Filipino champion Mark Magsayo out to blaze his own trail in boxing

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·Combat columnist
·4 min read
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Mark Magsayo, of the Philippines, connects with a punch on Julio Ceja, of Mexico, in a featherweight boxing match Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Though the comparisons to Manny Pacquiao are inevitable, Mark Magsayo (L) is out to chart his own course in boxing. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Mark Magsayo is the first one to quash the comparisons. He’s Filipino, he boxes, he can punch and he’s strung together a long winning streak.

But Magsayo, who defends his WBC featherweight title against Rey Vargas on Saturday at the Alamodome in San Antonio, doesn’t need a positive comparison with Manny Pacquiao from anyone in order to make himself look good.

That’s inevitably what happens these days to any Filipino with a pulse and boxing gloves on his hands, but Magsayo wants to chart his own course in the game, even though he’s promoted by the legend’s MP Promotions.

“There’s no next Manny Pacquiao,” Magsayo said. “There’s only one Manny Pacquiao. My only goal is to make my career as great as I can. Being compared to Manny doesn’t faze me. I just want to put my own name in the history books.”

Magsayo had been making his own name for a while, but he burst into the wider public consciousness on the undercard of Pacquiao’s last fight before retiring, against Yordenis Ugas at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Magsayo fought Julio Ceja in the co-main event and a memorable fight it was. It was a back-and-forth fight that featured three knockdowns.

Magsayo dropped Ceja in the first and pounced on him, looking for the knockout. But Ceja, to his credit, wasn’t there just for a paycheck. He battled his way out of the first and soon took command of the fight. He won Rounds 2-6 on all judges’ cards and 2-8 on the third’s.

It was looking dim for Magsayo, who didn’t want to lose at any time, but particularly on the night he was setting the scene for Pacquiao. They were brawling, but trainers Freddie Roach and Marvin Somodio urged him to box and stay off the ropes.

That change made all the difference. He took command of the fight in the ninth, and then dropped and stopped Ceja in the 10th. And that leads us back to Pacquiao, who was notorious for always being prepared to execute game plans and adjust when necessary.

Magsayo did exactly that to win against Ceja.

“The thing I learned from Manny Pacquiao is that discipline is the most important thing,” he said. “Without that, you’re nothing in this sport. That’s what helps drive me day after day.”

Mark Magsayo, of the Philippines, celebrates after knocking out Julio Ceja, of Mexico, in the 10th round of a featherweight boxing match Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Mark Magsayo heads into his match Saturday against Rey Vargas as a +100 underdog at BetMGM. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Sean Gibbons, the president of MP Promotions, is bullish on Magsayo’s potential and hopes to make a fight for later in the year with Leo Santa Cruz if Magsayo defeats Vargas.

He said there are many similarities between a young Pacquiao and Magsayo.

“It’s amazing because when he was 8 years old, he watched Manny Pacquiao fight in this very building and saw him destroy Marco Antonio Barrera,” Gibbons said. “Now, here he is, he’s come full circle and he’s fighting in this building in an important fight nearly 20 years later. If he does what I believe he’s going to do, he’s going to be the new face of Filipino boxing.”

Magsayo won a majority decision over Gary Russell Jr. in January to win the belt. Russell is arguably the division’s quickest and fastest boxer, but Magsayo’s work in the gym prepared him to deal with that.

His footwork was outstanding and put him in position to land clean shots on the elusive Russell. The footwork, he believes, will be important yet again against Vargas.

Vargas is tall and loves to box. Gibbons refers to him as “the Mexican Guillermo Rigondeaux” and despite Rigondeaux having Hall of Fame credentials, he didn’t mean it as a compliment.

Rigondeaux’s defensive, cautious style could make for some bad fights. But Magsayo’s ability to adjust and get into position could render that moot.

“My footwork is definitely very important in this fight,” Magsayo said. “Just like against Gary Russell Jr., I’m going to have to make adjustments. I’m not expecting him to mix it up with me.”

Gibbons said Magsayo has grown exponentially since working with Roach and Somodio. He said there is video showing Roach teaching Magsayo combinations and then Magsayo using one of those very combinations to drop his opponent.

MP signed him in 2020 and his first opponent was Rigoberto Hermosillo, a late replacement who no one on the team really wanted. That’s because Hermosillo is a 5-10 left-hander with an awkward difficult style.

Though Magsayo won by split decision, Gibbons said he knew at that moment he had something.

“That fight could have been a disaster,” Gibbons said. “But Mark is a smart kid and he knows how to adjust. He made the adjustments he needed to make and he went out and won the fight.”