Manny Pacquiao is a once-in-a-generation boxer. As boxing's only eight-division world champion, going from flyweight to winning a 154-pound title, it's doubtful we will see anything like him ever again.
Pacquiao called it a career in September after losing to Yordenis Ugas the previous month. But there was a fellow Filipino on the undercard who stole the show. Mark Magsayo rallied to notch a tenth-round knockout win over former super bantamweight champion Julio Ceja. So on that August night in Las Vegas, you could see a potential of a passing-of-the-torch type of moment for Filipino boxing.
Magsayo took the momentum and brought it into his first main event in the United States when he took on long-time reigning WBC featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr. at the beginning of January. Not many gave him a chance to dethrone Russell, who had been viewed as the best fighter at 126 pounds. However, Magsayo had other things in mind, beating Russell to win the belt.
Magsayo (24-0, 16 KOs) idolizes Pacquiao. Like Pacquiao, Magsayo is humble and gives to others. After defeating Russell, he bought a house in the Philippines and something for his family for a little business they run. The "Pac-Man even promotes him." He trains at the same gym and uses the same trainer that Pacquiao did for nearly 20 years, Wild Card Gym', under the guidance of Freddie Roach. The 27-year-old makes his first title defense on Saturday at the same venue where Pacquiao scored his first significant win, in November 2003 over Marco Antonio Barrera, when he takes on the undefeated Rey Vargas from the Alamodome in San Antonio.
The comparisons are there. However, such talk doesn't enter Magsayo's mind whatsoever.
"For me, I don't think about that, like the next superstar," Magsayo admits to DAZN. "No one can match Manny Pacquiao there (in the Philippines) in this era. I just train hard, focus (on) every fight, win every fight, and give honor to the Philippines. Just maintain my status like this, stay humble. I am a humble guy. No one can compare (to) Manny Pacquiao."
Pacquiao became adored worldwide due to his taking on anyone at anytime attitude. He wanted to face the best to see how he stacked up against the elite. Vargas (35-0, 22 KOs) checks that box as a former world champion. While Vargas is a mandatory challenger, boxers have found a way to skirt those until necessary, especially against someone as talented as Vargas. Fighters will often take a stay-busy title defense to enjoy the fruits of their hard work that earned them a world title. Instead, Magsayo wanted to jump straight into the fire.
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"Rey Vargas, he’s been waiting a long time in that slot because he’s been waiting for almost two years," Magsayo said. "He is a mandatory challenger of me, so I need to face him. I need to face a good fighter. I'm a natural fighter. I’m not a cherry-pick fighter. I need to get a strong fighter. My goal is to face a great fight(er). If you're a world champion, you need to face a top fighter."
Despite saying there will never be another Filipino boxer that can get near Pacquiao, the path to get near that level is there for Magsayo to obtain. To get near that status, Magsayo says it's cut and dry.
"Win every fight. Every big fight, just win," Magsayo bluntly said. "If you win every big fight, you're gonna get that something like that. That's why I told myself I just focus every time I fight, stay focused in training camp, sparring partners. So when I started training camp, I really focused like a horse like there's a straightforward in training camp. I think I'm ready (for) every fight."