Mark Magsayo’s long and difficult road out of hell

NORTH BERGEN, NJ — Mark Magsayo walked into a crowded gym on Monday, about 48 hours after his world title win, and saw a sight that reminded him of his own early days.

“They’re the same as when I started at 8,” new WBC featherweight titleholder Magsayo said before delivering an inspirational speech to the children’s class at the State of Fitness Boxing Club in North Bergen, NJ.

Magsayo (24-0, 16 KOs) is riding high after pulling off a huge upset, beating Gary Russell Jr. on Saturday night in Atlantic City, NJ The odds were as wide as 4-1 against Magsayo, 26, being the only finisher boxing’s longest reign. Magsayo emerged with the majority decision victory, becoming the fifth current world title holder from the Philippines.

“I feel like I’m in paradise. It’s my dream, the green belt. All fighters, this is their dream,” said Magsayo, from Tagbilaran City, Philippines.

Magsayo shared his story of overcoming hardship, how he learned boxing as a child after watching Manny Pacquiao dominate Marco Antonio Barrera in their first fight in 2003, and how he worked selling ice cream on the streets of the city. Bohol province. Her family survived by earning $5 a day working long hours in a bakery.

He started boxing to supplement the family income, earning $3 per amateur fight, but lost his first three amateur fights and his father advised him to quit.

He bought his dad his own bakery in the town of Tagbilaran with the purse from his previous fight, a come-from-behind knockout of Julio Ceja in August, and will buy his dad a house with the money earned from his championship victory.

Magsayo had few battle scars, a few light bruises under his right eye, but few beatings could match the difficulties he had faced in recent years. His championship win inspired young gym goers, but the toughest battles were fought outside the ring, leaving scars the eye couldn’t see.

new beginnings

Tensions had already begun to rise with ALA Promotions, Filipino outfit Magsayo turned pro in 2013, as early as 2017 when the company began publicly rejecting Magsayo’s calls for a title opportunity. He left the promotion in 2018, after opting not to renew his contract, but the ALA, which closed in 2020 after 35 years in operation, claimed he was still under contract, prompting fears. potential suitors.

Magsayo’s wife, Frances, a tattoo artist by trade, became a licensed manager to manage his career, as no professional would touch his career. Frances, the Adrian of Mark’s Rocky, says the couple got into debt and depleted their savings trying to keep the dream alive.

“We both almost gave up. We almost broke up,” Frances Magsayo said.

“It was like a roller coaster. For years we went through hell and back and then hell again. But we never gave up. I say everyday I’m going to keep pushing Mark because I believe in him, that he can become a champion. He just trained every day and I just took care of the problems outside the ring.

Mark Magsayo kisses his wife, Frances, after winning the title. Photo by Arvee Eco

The couple moved from Cebu to Rizal Province near the Philippines’ capital region of Metro Manila and began training at a gym owned by Cucuy Elorde, daughter of boxing great Gabriel “Flash” Elorde. . Magsayo trained six days a week for two years, working with Rissan Muelas to nurture his skills.

Magsayo finally returned to the ring in April 2019 after signing with Malaysian manager Vikram Sivapragasam and a promotion company run by boxing manager Cameron Dunkin’s brother Joe Dunkin. Sivapragasam helped Magsayo get to America, where he started training in Las Vegas.

Magsayo knocked out Erick Deztroyer in Singapore then returned to Bohol province for a fight with former bantamweight titleholder Panya Uthok in August 2019, which Magsayo won by unanimous decision. Magsayo would later amicably part ways with Sivapragasam and buy out the rest of their Dunkin contract, and stay out of the ring for over a year once again.

The pair tried their luck again when they entered the Wild Card Boxing Club in Los Angeles in July 2020, hoping to meet Freddie Roach, whom Magsayo had long dreamed of training with. Roach, who had guided Manny Pacquiao to a Hall of Fame career, was interested in working with another talented Filipino boxer.

“Freddie’s first words were, ‘When do you want to start?’ Mark said, “I want to start tomorrow,” recalls Frances Magsayo.

Roach doesn’t like to compare anyone to Pacquiao, but says there’s a way he and Magsayo are similar.

“He’s got a lot of heart, he listens well in the gym, he trains hard. Like Manny Pacquiao, he’s a hard worker. The only reason Manny has won eight world titles is his work ethic. His ethic work got him through, and Mark is the same,” Roach said.

Shortly after starting Wild Card training, the Magsayos received a phone call from Sean Gibbons, president of MP Promotions, the company run by Pacquiao. They worked out a promotional deal, the plan being for Magsayo to fight three times, with the third fight being a knockout fight and the fourth being a world title fight. Gibbons, who has been involved in boxing for decades, said he has never seen a plan work out so perfectly.

“It shows persistence, it shows he has no surrender in him,” Gibbons said. “He doesn’t let things break him down mentally, and that’s a great trait.”

That’s not to say there weren’t real challenges. Magsayo’s first fight under the deal, which got him exposure on Premier Boxing Champions cards, was originally scheduled to be against Jose Haro, but Haro pulled out. He was replaced on two weeks’ notice by Rigoberto Hermosillo, a tall, aggressive southpaw with a very different style to what Magsayo had prepared for.

Magsayo was only able to train twice with a southpaw to prepare due to the late switch. Magsayo later tested positive for COVID-19, despite being asymptomatic. For ten days, he trained alone in an Airbnb. There was no equipment, so he ran up the stairs to build his conditioning. Frances Magsayo said they begged PBC officials to allow them to fight after testing negative in later tests, and the fight continued after they relented.
Magsayo dumped the clip against Hermosillo, stunning him in round one, but was unable to keep up the pace over the ten-lap distance.

A breathless Magsayo escaped with a split decision victory, but the performance drew more criticism than praise.

“People tried to hit Mark, trying to knock him down. But no one else knows what it took to make this fight happen,” Frances Magsayo said. “Mark cried, but Sean picked him up.”

Magsayo’s team prepares to leave the hotel room for the fight. Photo by Arvee Eco

Magsayo returned to the ring in April 2021 with a dominant fourth-round stoppage of Pablo Cruz in a fight that was not televised before facing Ceja, in the fight co-featured under what would be Pacquiao’s final bout. .

Magsayo again started fast with a first-round knockdown but faded, as the burly Mexican puncher targeted Magsayo’s body and dropped him in the fifth. After losing eight straight rounds and being hopelessly behind on the scorecards, Magsayo ended the fight in dramatic fashion, landing two right hands in the tenth round that knocked out Ceja’s lights for several minutes.

Even winning the championship wasn’t the end of the road for Magsayo’s critics. Critics blamed the result on Russell’s inactivity and a right shoulder injury that Russell says he dealt with from the amateurs. Russell sought to discredit Magsayo’s performance even further, saying he deserved victory by margins of 10 rounds to 2 or 9 rounds to 3.

“The problem is if we gave him a rematch, I don’t know what year it would be, he only fights every one or two years,” joked Gibbons of Russell.

What awaits us

Along the way, the Magsayos built a team that could take them to the top. In addition to Roach, Magsayo has also trained with Roach’s protege, Marvin Somodio, a former amateur star from the Philippines turned coach. He added nutritionist Jeaneth Aro after the Hermosillo fight to help him maintain his strength while he cuts down from his featherweight to his walking weight, which is over 150 pounds. Aro had worked with IBF junior bantamweight titleholder Jerwin Ancajas and the Philippines national basketball team, but found new success through his work with all four of the Philippines’ Olympic medalists at the 2020 Games, including the country’s first-ever gold medalist, Hidilyn Diaz.

Rounding out the training team are conditioning trainer Pedro Garcia, who has developed a regime less about weightlifting and more about building functional strength and endurance, and Ash Parker, who works to improve Magsayo’s hand-eye coordination and reaction times.

Magsayo returned to Los Angeles on Wednesday and will begin plotting his next defense. Despite being Russell’s mandatory challenger, Magsayo won’t have the luxury of a willing defense. The WBC sent a letter to Team Magsayo just days after winning the belt, advising them they would have to face the no. 1 contender, former WBC junior bantamweight titleholder Rey Vargas (35-0, 22 KOs).

Vargas had been out of the ring for over two years with a serious hand injury and returned to the ring in November 2021, but was not ready to face Russell two months later. Gibbons said he would have preferred Magsayo to face bigger names with more fan-friendly styles, like WBA titleholder Leo Santa Cruz, or the winner between IBF titleholder Kiko Martinez and Josh Warrington. Magsayo says he hopes to get an exception for a voluntary fight instead with Santa Cruz, the biggest name in the 126-pound division.

“When we got ahead of Rey Vargas, we did it knowing we had to face him as a mandatory,” said Gibbons, who expects the fight to happen this summer.

Vargas, a busy and clumsy fighter, is a tough test for Magsayo in the ring, but few challenges can match what he’s faced outside the ring.

“To my family, to my team, I’m so happy that my dream came true,” Magsayo said.

Ryan Songalia has written for ESPN, the New York Daily News, Rappler, Vice and The Guardian, and holds an MA from the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. He can be reached at [email protected]

Comments are closed.