MANILA, Philippines – The institution of Philippine boxing and the name Manny Pacquiao are inextricably linked forever. But like all great athletes, Pacquiao’s run has come to an end, and the search is on for the next generation of fighters to, if not take his place, but to keep the tradition of Filipino fighters alive.
One of those fighters whom many look to to fill a role is Albert Pagara, a 22-year-old junior featherweight from Cagayan de Oro City who has slowly risen as a top attraction on ALA Promotions’ Pinoy Pride cards. Pagara (26-0, 18 knockouts) will show what lies beneath his flashy exterior when he faces rugged former title challenger Cesar Juarez on Saturday, July 9 (Sunday Manila time) at the San Mateo Event Center in San Mateo, California.
Juarez (17-5, 13 KOs) of Mexico City popped onto the boxing radar in 2015, defeating contender Cesar Seda and ex-titleholder Juan Carlos Sanchez Jr before giving Nonito Donaire Jr one of the toughest fights of his career in a decision loss for the WBO junior featherweight title. Juarez, 24, followed that performance with an equally surprising loss to Mexican journeyman Giovanni Delgado in March.
Despite Juarez’s reputation for durability and toughness, Pagara isn’t expecting this to be the hardest fight of his 6-year career.
“I still thinks Raul Hirales is the toughest fighter I’ve had as an opponent, judging from the way Juarez fights,” Pagara tells Rappler, referring to the Mexican journeyman he won a 12-round decision over in Cebu City back in 2014. “I feel this is the right time for this kind of fight because I’ve been ready for a big one.”
Pagara, who was born in Maasin City in Southern Leyte, was first introduced by his father, a former boxer himself who does contractual work, at the age of 8. He and his older brother Jason, a junior welterweight contender with a 38-2 (23 KOs) record who faces Abraham Alvarez (21-9-1, 10 KOs) in the 10-round co-main event, were learning how to jab and slip punches while other kids were learning how to do their times tables. Every Sunday he would compete in amateur fights, amassing 400 bouts before turning pro.
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While the quick question many would have is whether he can be “the next Pacquiao” who evokes feelings of excitement and pride. But Pagara is content to be himself and go at his own pace.
“I tell them I’m different from Pacquiao. I will always strive to be the one of Philippines’ best, but I can never be like him. I want to carry the Philippines’ tradition of boxing in my own way,” Pagara says.
There are some similarities between Pagara and Pacquiao, who like Pagara has familial roots in the Leyte province. Pagara’s electric dyed blonde hair is reminiscent of the metallic hair Pacquiao wore during the early part of his championship rise. And for this fight, Pagara spent time at the Wild Card Gym along with stablemate Jason Pagara and Mark Magsayo to take in more diverse sparring than he’d receive at the ALA Gym in Cebu City.
The similarities stop there though, as Pagara fights out of a more conservative stance than the whirling dervish that was the 8-division champion “Pacman.”
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Pagara is starting to catch on with international audiences before his second fight in the United States, having risen to the number 7 ranking with The Ring magazine’s ratings at 122 pounds.
He’s in no rush for a title fight, admitting he’ll need another fight or two before he’s ready to face the best in the junior featherweight division. Whether he’s one step closer to that milestone, or he needs to reevaluate that timeline will be made known after Saturday. – Rappler.com
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