Is Magsayo Ready For A Title Fight?

Bohol’s boxing pride, Mark ‘Magnifico’ Magsayo, made great strides in his quest for glory by scoring a come-from-behind 10th round knockout over Mexican former champ Julio Ceja last weekend in the undercard of the Pacquiao – Ugas Fight. With that sensational shocker-of-a-win, Mark now becomes a top contender for world boxing’s featherweight crown.

Magsayo scored a quick knockdown in the opening seconds of the very first round, with a vicious left hook which caught Ceja by surprise, dumping him down to his pants. More embarrassed than hurt, Ceja came roaring back, exacting as much punishment as he was getting.

The veteran Ceja then stepped up his attack, wading in while avoiding Magsayo’s deadly headshots. His ferocious attacks to the body would pay dividends, earning for him the nod of the judges for most of round 2 onwards. Eventually, Ceja ‘s non-stop blasts to the midsection would weaken Magsayo, even scoring a huge knockdown in the fifth round.

For a moment, I thought that this was going to be the end of Mark’s lofty dreams for a boxing crown. But our rising star refused to quit; and instead, got up and dared Ceja for more. Ceja did continue to stalk him, as Mark backpedaled or clinched in an effort to stem the body blows.

Trailing heavily in the scorecards heading into the 10th, Magsayo now needed a knockout in order to salvage a win. Three more rounds and the Mexican brawler would have handed Mark his first-ever loss.

But Mark had other plans. He didn’t want to go back to the hard life he had before in Tagbilaran. He didn’t want to sleep hungry ever again. He has never been so close to his dream of fame and fortune. He would not let this rare opportunity slip away.

Digging deeper, Mark would discover a second wind during that round break. He went head-hunting once again. With much more urgency. And with renewed vigor and accuracy. With less than a minute left of the 10th, Mark would send Ceja crashing down the canvas. Ceja was unconscious even before he hit the floor. Mark had reversed the fight’s narrative so dramatically in a single round of pure offensive savagery.

Mark’s offensive prowess was in full display in that fateful 10th round. After dazing Ceja early in the round, he pursued the now-backpedaling brawler relentlessly. Mark’s instinct for the kill was certainly there. And the speed and power of his punches were a sight to see.

With this hard-earned win, Mark’s record now stands at a sensational 23 wins (16 KOs), with no losses. He now has a good chance to challenge for the crown. Question is: is he ready to pit mitts with the current WBC titleholder, Gary Russell Jr?

Much as I would like Mark to challenge for the crown, I can see certain areas where he will need to improve on first. Despite the emphatic win over Ceja, Mark’s flaws were also exposed in this match. But I am confident that coach Freddie Roach will have identified these flaws and will surely be addressing them.

Like many knockout artists, Mark is so enamored with his speed and power that he forgets certain facets of the fight game. For starters, his offense will need to be expanded. He cannot rely on headshots alone. He needs to learn to diversify his attacks, and stalk the body as well, so that his opponent will have a bigger area to defend as opposed to the head alone.

Next is his defense. Against the non-stop aggression of Ceja, Mark would allow himself to be trapped in a corner countless times. As opposed to blocking and parrying, he has to rely more on slipping and countering, or using the clinch. He also needs to unleash more jabs to stymie the opponent’s offensive rhythm.

Finally, his stamina. Perhaps this was due to the incessant body attacks from Ceja, but Mark’s stamina was found wanting here. It was clear in between rounds that Mark was more winded and that Ceja was the more durable of the 2 fighters.

So there you have it. The 3 S’s of Speed, Skill and Stamina. His speed is ok. His skill needs to be expanded. On offense, diversify; on defense, solidify. And his stamina needs to be further developed.

But I’m glad he’s under the tutelage of the grizzled vet, Freddie Roach. Freddie has clearly been able to hone much of his basic skills. Freddie should be able to make him a more complete fighter. He cannot be a one-dimensional offensive machine, as there will be different types of fighting styles out there for him to solve. And he has to learn to be patient and cunning like a panther.

Mark’s date for the crown will be there. But until that time comes, he will need to double time to prepare himself. The Ceja fight was a sensational win. But if you look at it more objectively, Ceja was on his way to a comfortable points decision. Magsayo could have lost that bout big-time if he didn’t nail the KO.

Nonetheless, we’re rooting for you, Mark.  Stay the course. Train harder. Remain humble and God-fearing. And make us, Bol-anons as well as the entire Filipino nation, proud!

Cover photo courtesy of cbssports.com. Other photos courtesy of premiereboxingchampions.com, ringtv.com, mb.com.ph, worldboxingnews.net, boxing247.com, latimes.com, boxingscene.com, lewlewsports.com and facebook.

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