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Bad Times For Filipino Boxing: First Pacquiao, Then Donaire, Now Magsayo

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When Filipino Mark Magsayo dropped his WBC featherweight title Saturday night via split decision to Mexico’s Rey Vargas, The Philippines lost their last active world champion. It could be seen as the culmination of a horrible run for the Asian boxing hotbed and it’s fighters.

The bad run started with the biggest blow of all when Filipino icon and first-ballot Hall of Famer Manny Pacquiao lost via unanimous decision to Cuba’s Yordenis Ugas and then, appropriately enough, decided to end his legendary 26-year career.

The loss of such an important figure in the Filipino boxing scene was predictably heavy. The hole it left would reasonably take a generation or more to fill. But there was some hope to be had.

Veteran four-division world champ Nonito Donaire was in the midst of a mind-boggling resurgence at 38-39. He had regained a world title and was headed towards a high-profile title unification rematch with Naoya Inoue.

The all-energy Mark Magsayo then burst upon the scene with an electrifying knockout of Julio Ceja and than an upset victory over long-reigning WBC champ Gary Russell Jr.

Even the veteran world champ Johnriel Casimero was making some waves again after beating a retreat-minded Guillermo Rigondeaux.

None would replace the electricity Pacquiao brought to the scene, but there was enough there to hold one over until “the next big thing” could come along. Heck, maybe Magsayo WAS the next big thing.

But then things went south in a big way.

Casimero fell off the face of the boxing Earth after bad vibes and bad blood put the kibosh on a planned Nonito Donaire bantamweight title unification.

Donaire, himself, would go on to be blasted away in two rounds by Inoue.

And now Magsayo has come up short in his very first title defense against the wiry and elusive Vargas, despite scoring a knockdown in the ninth round and drawing some support among many that he maybe deserved to get the nod on the judges’ scorecards.

Hope is not entirely lost, however.

This Wednesday, ultra-veteran and former four-division world champ, the 40-year-old Donnie Nietes looks to regain a world title and become the only active Filipino world champion in the wake of Magsayo’s defeat. He’ll be taking on WBO super flyweight champion, Japan’s Kazuto Ioka in a rematch of a 2018 contest that the then-champion Filipino won via split decision. Nietes’ last run with a world title would end with that victory. Shortly thereafter, he would vacate his title and take a sabbatical from the sport until making his ring return in 2021.

A win for Nietes would be nice and it would distract– a little– from the appearance of a complete free fall in Filipino boxing. But, in the big picture, it wouldn’t mean all that much. Realistically, at 40, Nietes doesn’t have all that much main stage time left in him, even if he puts on a glowing performance against Ioka.

There always seems to be an endless supply of young, energetic Filipino boxers coming up to fill opponent slots and try to make their way on to boxing’s main stage. Credit Pacquiao for inspiring wave after wave of idealistic countrymen to fight their way out of rough times and make a break for success.

But maybe the Pacquiao power has depleted itself to a certain degree and his Cinderella story doesn’t register with the same impact it used to. Maybe Pacquiao, himself, will be back in the ring at some point in the near future to kick start the inspiration.

Whatever the case, this certainly seems like a down time for the Filipino boxing scene. But, who knows? Maybe the next Pacquiao (or Donaire or even Magsayo) is just around the corner.

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Paul Magno has over forty years of experience in and around the sport of boxing and has had his hand in everything, from officiating to training. As a writer, his work has appeared in several online publications, including Yahoo Sports, Fox Sports, FightHype, Max Boxing, Boxing.com, Inside Fights, The Boxing Tribune, The Queensberry Rules, and Premier Boxing Champions. You can reach him at: paulmagno@theboxingtribune.com