Fil-British boxer John Marvin ready to ‘smash up’ foes at SEA Games

Ryan Songalia
Fil-British boxer John Marvin ready to ‘smash up’ foes at SEA Games
Light heavyweight boxers are a rarity in the Philippines, but John Marvin hopes to prove he's worth keeping around when he competes at the 2017 SEA Games

MANILA, Philippines – At 6-foot-1, John Marvin is built more like a basketball player than a boxer. But the 24-year-old Filipino-British boxer has come to fight as he heads into his first tour of duty with the Philippine national boxing team.

Marvin had grown up on the Isle of Wight in the English Channel, the son of a British father who worked as a cruise director and professional singer, and a Filipina mother from Pampanga who works as a nurse. He’s currently a Lance Corporal in the British Army, being assigned to the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, and boxes for the Army team representing the First Battalion.

So how did Marvin end up as part of the team representing the Philippines at the 2017 Southeast Asian Games later this month in Kuala Lumpur? It started with an international tournament he wasn’t even a part of, and being the right size at the right time.

“It was like a journey for me. My home team were on a boxing show [last year] and they managed to bump into the national team of the Philippines. I think it was in Sweden or Finland, and basically they got in touch with them and mentioned that I was half Filipino and they said if you’ve got dual nationality then I’d be able to come and box for the Philippines,” said Marvin. 

He got his papers sorted out and became a dual citizen, and it didn’t hurt that he boxed in the light heavyweight (81 kilograms) division, where the boxing-rich Philippines rarely fields boxers.

“We have a hard time recruiting welterweights, let alone light heavyweights,” ABAP executive director Ed Picson previously told Rappler of Marvin, the first Fil-foreign boxer recruited to the national team since 2004 Olympian Christopher Camat.

Marvin’s record isn’t as deep as some of his PH teammates, but he’s a two-time Combined Services Senior Boxing champion, and says he’s had 37 amateur fights, winning 23 – 11 by knockouts – and losing 14. 

He’s in good company to improve his ability and experience, sparring with Wilfredo Lopez and Eumir Marcial, the Philippines’ SEA Games middleweight boxers at the 2015 and 2017 editions, respectively. He says he’s been like a “sponge”, and benefited from the team’s trip to Guangzhou last month to train alongside the Chinese, South Korean and Kazakh boxing teams.

“It’s really good because they’re at that ultimate level which I’m aspiring to get to, that’s the Olympics,” said Marvin. “Being around the likes of [2016 Philippine Olympian] Charly Suarez and all the coaches here, to be able to be around that atmosphere and have that coaching guidance drilled into you, day in day out, morning and night, through pads, from the moment you wake up to the time you go to sleep…it’s very inspirational.”

Boxing started out as a way to unleash his aggression after school. Now he hopes to make a name for himself with the Philippine national team. Photo by Toby Roca/Rappler

Light heavyweight is not the deepest division in Southeast Asia, and his not being seen in the region makes it harder for the competition to scout him. Picson says he’s heard that 6 or 7 light heavyweights will be in the tournament, including Felix Merlin Martinez, a naturalized Cuban representing Cambodia.

“I haven’t really scouted any [of the other light heavyweights] but I’m aware there are a few out there. But we’re just gonna train for the best and just smash up anything that’s in front of us,” said Marvin.

“I cannot give you assurance [that he’ll win a medal],” says national team head coach Nolito Velasco of Marvin. “He is only here how many months, but he is good.”

After-school brawler

Marvin didn’t grow up playing sports, but found boxing informally about 7 years ago as a way to let out his anger and aggression.

“I liked fighting. We used to go down after school and we used to fight after school just for fun,” said Marvin. Police eventually got involved and told them they had to take it to a boxing gym, which Marvin eventually did.

Joining the military helped bring discipline to his life, and allowed him to further pursue boxing. He was invited to the British Army team in 2014 when he fought in the Army Individuals Championship, knocking out his semifinals and finals opponents in the second round.

Being part of the Philippine national team has been an adjustment. There are cultural differences, like a language barrier, but food hasn’t been a problem since he was raised on his mother’s cooking.

“There is a little bit of a difference, like the coaching’s different, the culture’s different,” said Marvin, who has two children, a boy and a girl. “Here they’re just fighting for everything here. You don’t get anything handed to you on a plate out here, people are doing this to feed their families. Whereas at home a lot of people just do it for a hobby.”

Could Marvin end up a permanent fixture of the national team, like a boxing Azkal? That’s to be determined, but he’s made it known he’s got something to prove in Malaysia.

“Obviously it all boils down to this first time performance,” said Marvin. “Either I’m going to be a good person to put through and keep grafting and put all this money and time into, or they’re gonna say ‘no let’s not bother with him again. Let him just stay in England.’” –

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