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MANILA, Philippines – Filipino Mark Magsayo turned his lifelong dream into a reality when he wrested the World Boxing Council (WBC) featherweight belt from American Gary Russell Jr.
A heavy underdog, Magsayo pulled off a majority decision over a hurt Russell to clinch a world title in his first try and halt the erstwhile longest active reign in boxing that lasted for nearly seven years.
Magsayo joined the growing list of Filipino world title owners, which include WBC bantamweight titleholder Nonito Donaire, International Boxing Federation (IBF) super flyweight king Jerwin Ancajas, IBF minimumweight titlist Rene Mark Cuarto, and World Boxing Organization (WBO) bantamweight champion Johnriel Casimero.
Here are some fast facts about Mark Magsayo.
Looking up to Pacman
Just like countless of Filipino boxers, Magsayo grew up idolizing Manny Pacquiao.
Magsayo recalled watching the first time Pacquiao beat Mexican Marco Antonio Barrera in 2003 – a key moment that pushed him into pursuing the sport.
“I told myself, I want to be Manny Pacquiao,” Magsayo said in an interview with ESNEWS.
Years after parting ways with the now-defunct ALA Promotions, Magsayo signed with the Pacquiao-founded MP Promotions in 2020 and has since fought in the United States four times.
Then in August 2021, Magsayo fulfilled one of his dreams to fight in the same card as Pacquiao and put on an outstanding performance with a 10th-round knockout of Mexican Julio Ceja, a win that propelled him to a title bout against Russell.
By beating Russell, Magsayo claimed the WBC featherweight belt Pacquiao won when he toppled Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez in their second encounter in 2008.
Vendor to boxer
Born into poverty, Magsayo needed to work at a young age of eight and sold ice cream and bread in the streets of Tagbilaran City, Bohol to aid his parents.
“There were times we ate only once a day. It was difficult, my life before,” Magsayo said.
Inspired by Pacquiao, Magsayo trooped to a local boxing gym and began training along children his age.
While Magsayo has yet to taste a defeat throughout his nine-year professional career, he struggled to secure a win at the start of his amateur career that his father felt boxing was not for him.
“I lost my first fight, second fight, I lost, third fight, I lost. My father said to me, ‘Mark, stop boxing, you have no future.’ I said to myself that this is my dream, I’m still young, still a kid, I have a future,” Magsayo said.
Wins – and titles – eventually came for Magsayo as he went on to become one of the top amateur boxers in the country, ruling national tournaments organized by the Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines several times.
Magsayo then turned professional in 2013 and signed with ALA Promotions.
With his win over Russell, Magsayo kept his immaculate record intact at 24-0 (16 knockouts).
In fact, the man who earned the moniker “Magnifico” is the only undefeated boxer among all featherweight champions, which include Mexican Leo Santa Cruz (World Boxing Association), Spanish Kiko Martinez (IBF), and Mexican Emanuel Navarrete (WBO).
But Magsayo had a few close calls.
He suffered a knockdown against American Chris Avalos during the third round of their 2016 bout before he recovered to score a sensational sixth-round technical knockout win.
Magsayo then teetered on the brink of his first loss against a tank-like Ceja, who knocked the Filipino down in the fifth round of their title eliminator and dominated almost the entire fight based on the judges’ scorecards.
But Magsayo displayed his grit in the 10th round and unleashed a nasty right straight that put the former world champion Ceja to sleep.
The brutal stoppage win earned Magsayo the Knockout of the Year honors from Premier Boxing Champions.
Behind the success of Magsayo is a dedicated team composed of individuals considered to be the best in their craft.
Magsayo has been training under the tutelage of legendary coach Freddie Roach, famously known for guiding Pacquiao on his way to becoming the only eight-division world champion in boxing.
The 26-year-old credited the Hall of Fame mentor as a key figure in his improvement.
“Since the start, he changed my style, my work ethic, my technique, and he helped me build on the things that I lacked. I’m so happy that I have a legendary coach behind me,” Magsayo said.
Also providing Magsayo valuable guidance is compatriot Marvin Somodio, who has served as an assistant to Roach for the past decade.
Somodio has worked with the likes of Pacquiao, Russian Ruslan Provodnikov, Puerto Rican Miguel Cotto, and Russian Denis Lebedev, to name a few former world champions.
To keep himself in prime shape, Magsayo has partnered with renowned nutritionist Jeaneth Aro.
Aro played a pivotal role in helping weightlifting star Hidilyn Diaz capture the Philippines’ first Olympic gold medal and boxers Nesthy Petecio, Carlo Paalam, and Eumir Marcial pocket two silvers and one bronze from the Tokyo Games. – Rappler.com