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

HOLLYWOOD — When Manny Pacquaio ended his legendary career by losing to Yordenis Ugas, protégé Mark Magsayo shone with a vicious knockout win over Julio Ceja on his idol’s undercard.

Pacquaio officially retired from boxing in September, and while there will never be another Pacquiao, there is a chance for a compatriot to become 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 urged to retire. Donnie Nietes, also 40, fights Kazuto Ioka for the super flyweight title on July 13, but his best days are behind him. Jerwin Ancajas’ more than five-year tenure as world champion ended in February.

Jayson Mama suffered his first career loss in a World Championship opportunity against Sunny Edwards in December. John Riel Casimero was accused of sexual abuse and in May he was stripped of his WBO bantamweight title after twice not fighting in scheduled bouts.

Although Rene Cuarto is currently believed to be the defending strawweight champion, the Filipino fighter who seems set to have the potential to become the country’s next top fighter is Magsayo.

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

Magsayo’s tough test comes at the Alamodome in San Antonio, the same venue where Pacquiao broke through in 2003 with a stunning post-match win over Marco Antonio Barrera.

That night in the Philippines, an eight-year-old Magsayo was on TV who decided to pursue a professional boxing career immediately after the fight.

Magsayo continued his goals, even training and fighting alongside Pacquiao, who made his pro debut in 1995 – six months before Magsayo was born.

“It’s an honor to walk the same path as Manny Pacquiao,” Magsayo told ESPN in an interview after 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, the Bohol-bred Magsayo discovered he had become a star.

“Everywhere we went, everything stopped,” Frances said. “Kids would run up to him and ask for photos. It wasn’t normal for him, but he’s happy that people welcome him warmly and are proud.”

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

Pacquaio stated how proud he was during the meeting and reiterated that hard work would take Magsayo to new stratospheres. The group also looked at the battle tape on Vargas.

“I was so happy that he took the time to talk to me. It was surreal,” Magsayo said. “He told me the key to beating Vargas is to work on footwork and head movement, stay humble and pray. I believe in God and I believe in Manny Pacquaio.” Magsayo tries to emulate the same formula that made Pacquaio a generational warrior.

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 handler Gibbons. Magsayo even does the same workouts that made Pacquiao famous in the Hollywood hills.

Equally important to becoming a fan favorite and must-have item, Magsayo follows in Pacquiao’s footsteps and competes against all comers of all sizes.

Vargas is a physically imposing Mexican slugger who will have an advantage over Magsayo of almost five inches in height and three inches in reach. Vargas, 31, was a super bantamweight champion and has defended his title five times, but he has only fought once since July 2019 – a 10-round decision win over Leonardo Baez in November.

“Recent activity will be a huge key in this fight and Mark is smarter than smart,” Gibbons said. “Mark’s demeanor and work ethic hasn’t changed and he’s more determined now than he was when he defeated Russell. Success hasn’t gone to his head.”

Gibbons used a group of sparring partners that included Juan Carlos Burgos, Eduardo Baez, Bryan Chevalier and Domnique Crowder to emulate Vargas’ robust style.

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

Roach envisions Magsayo fighting up close, unleashing combinations to achieve the win against Vargas.

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

Magsayo hasn’t made it look smooth, however, showing some creases in his game every time he steps up.

“We found 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 en route to a decision loss when he rebounded and scored a notable knockout in the 10th round.

In the Russell bout, Russell suffered a shoulder injury in the fourth round, finishing 150 to 69. Still, Magsayo managed to sneak past the judges’ cards by majority decision with scores of 115-113, 115-113, and 114-114.

Should Magsayo get past Vargas, Gibbons plans to match Magsayo against four-division champion Leo Santa Cruz later this year.

Magsayo understands the magnitude of the upcoming matchup.

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

If Magsayo can beat Russell, Vargas and Santa Cruz in 2022, he will surely be a front-runner 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 snag his entry into the Hall of Fame should he beat the trio.

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

Magsayo has already been approved for a loan and wants to use his earnings to give up the Hollywood condo he rents and buy a home 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 earned as victories continue.

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

Gibbons doubled down on the statement.

“He’s like Manny Pacquaio – down to earth, humble and a man of the people,” Gibbons said. “It’s his destiny – Pacquiao passed the torch to Mark. I really believe in it. If he beats Vargas he will absolutely be the new face of Filipino boxing.” Mark Magsayo can be the next face of Philippine boxing if he beats Rey Vargas

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