It’s inevitable that any young Filipino boxer is going to be compared to the legendary Filipino icon, Manny Pacquiao. In the case of featherweight Mark Magsayo, however, there was more than a passing resemblance to the now-retired multi-division world champ.
The attitude, hunger, and explosive energy were clearly evident in the Pasig City native, as he worked his way from humble beginnings in a family bakery to four national titles in The Philippines and an undefeated run as a pro.
Pacquiao, himself, noticed the similarities and that’s what led him to signing the young talent to MP Promotions.
“He reminds me of myself,” Pacquiao said when he signed Magsayo in 2020. “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.”
Magsayo would even take on Pacquiao’s long-time trainer Freddie Roach, who’s been working with him since the signing, polishing out some rough edges and adding seasoning to his skill set.
Despite turning pro in 2013, Magsayo was still wild in style and somewhat undisciplined in his ring performances before entering the Pacquiao universe. This, in great part, was due to previous management’s recognition of his Pacquiao-like attributes and, possibly, their desire to keep him protected as an asset for future benefit.
“He came from ALA Promotions…I have been following this young man and he is really heavy-handed,” said veteran boxing analyst Ed Tolentino.
“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.”
But, of course, the next Pacquiao can’t be made via calculated setups and safe matchmaking. A real warrior can only be made via baptism under fire. Since signing with MP Promotions, Magsayo has taken on the crafty Rigoberto Hermosillo and the battle-tested Pablo Cruz. In his most recent bout, on the Manny Pacquiao-Yordenis Ugas undercard, he got off the canvas and came from behind to stop veteran former world champ Julio Ceja with a brutal one-punch KO shot in the tenth round.
The Ceja win was his greatest career victory to date and it was especially sweet coming on the undercard of his life-long idol.
“I prayed that one day I would fight on the undercard of Senator Manny Pacquiao, and finally, my dream has come true,” Magsayo said prior to defeating Ceja. “I need to show the world that I’m the best 126-pound fighter in the world. This is my big shot. This is my stepping stone to become a world champion.”
The Ceja win also put him into his current position as WBC mandatory challenger to the featherweight world title.
But now comes the hardest part of the rise to the very top.
The 26-year-old top contender is just days away from an elite-level challenge this Saturday on Showtime for a belt against, arguably, the best of the best at featherweight, Gary Russell Jr. Magsayo is going straight to the very top on his very first try at winning a world title.
The 33-year-old Russell has been the WBC 126 lb. titlist since 2015 and has shown himself to be nearly untouchable as defending champ. Blessed with otherworldly hand speed and hard-earned ring intellect from a lifetime spent in the gym, the Capitol Heights, Maryland native is regarded as one of the top pound-for-pound talents in the world. His sole career blemish came in 2014 via majority decision loss to Vasiliy Lomachenko.
It’s going to take a monstrous effort for the young Magsayo to pry that belt from Russell’s firm grasp. That’s how it should be, though. One can’t be Manny Pacquiao-like without the burning desire to achieve the impossible.