Although Mark Magsayo is trying for his second major title this Saturday when he faces Brandon Figueroa for the interim WBC featherweight belt at Toyota Arena in Ontario, California, live on Showtime, he’s still seen by many as “that guy who kinda fights like Manny Pacquiao.”
It’s a blessing and a curse when it comes to Filipino fighters. Get good enough and you WILL be compared to legendary Filipino icon Manny Pacquiao. In the case of Magsayo, though, there was more than just a passing resemblance between him and the future first ballot Hall of Famer.
The Pasig City native fought with a Pacquiao-like ball-of-lightning style, bouncing with energy in the ring, as he worked his way from humble beginnings in the family bakery to four national titles in The Philippines and, ultimately, to a world title in the featherweight division.
Pacquiao, himself, noticed his likeness in a young Magsayo, something which led to him signing the promising prospect to his own promotional company, MP Promotions.
“He reminds me of myself,” Pacquiao said, back in 2020 when he first signed Magsayo. “How we both struggled to come from nothing to a world-rated contender. I love his work ethic and desire to become a world champion and I will do everything to help promote Mark and make his dreams a reality.”
At the time of the signing, Magsayo was still green and showcased a wild, somewhat undisciplined style that led to uneven ring performances. The young man was trying to be (or maybe even encouraged to be) Pacquiao, the fighter, without learning the skill of Pacquiao, the boxer.
“He came from ALA Promotions…I have been following this young man and he is really heavy-handed,” veteran boxing analyst Ed Tolentino said of Magsayo.
“He was being groomed because he was like a young Pacquiao. We saw that as he rose to the rankings, but admittedly during his time with ALA Promotions, he was never really fed with serious opposition. He fought handpicked opponents.”
Upon signing with MP Promotions, Magsayo would take on Pacquiao long-time trainer Freddie Roach, further spurring on the Pacquiao comparisons.
Roach would have a great settling influence on the young fighter, polishing out some rough edges and, more importantly, helping him harness his raw energy into a more nuanced, cohesive ring presence.
Two years after signing on with Pacquiao, Magsayo would capture the WBC featherweight title by decisioning the longest reigning world champion at the time, Gary Russell Jr., who some felt was as close to unbeatable as a fighter could be.
The high spot and high emotions wouldn’t last long, though, as Magsayo would lose his title in his very first defense, six months later, against Mexico’s Rey Vargas.
The loss stalled his skyrocketing career, but it also forced him to take a breath, reset, and make some important tweaks to his team.
Magsayo would replace head trainer Roach with long-time Roach assistant Marvin Somodio and get right back to work. The 27-year-old former champ insists that the decision was not intended to cast any aspersions on Roach’s abilities as a trainer. As a matter of fact, he still heaps praise on Roach for helping take him this far. Choosing Somodio, who is also Filipino and speaks the same dialect as Magsayo, was about improving communication in camp and reaching even greater heights in this second run at a world title.
“It [the loss to Vargas] made me a better fighter because I came back stronger in training and sparring. I was a little depressed when I got my first loss, I was sad a few weeks but after that I came back strong,” Magsayo recently told RingTV.
This Saturday, the world will see if the tweaks and changes were enough to get Magsayo back to the top of the 126 lb. class. Standing before him will be tenacious, non-stop pressure fighter Brandon Figueroa, who is a former unified super bantamweight champ, moving up to featherweight after his own tough championship loss.
For what it’s worth, Magsayo says he’s ready for the challenge and looking forward to the coming war.
As with most things in the world of boxing, we’ll see what’s what when the opening bell rings.