First of all, I wish to congratulate our very own Mark ‘Magnifico’ Magsayo for his superb performance in capturing the WBC Featherweight crown last week against boxing’s then longest-reigning world champ, Gary Russell Jr. It was a proud and joyful moment indeed – most specially for us Boholanos – when the judges’ decisions were announced. At a time when the island of Bohol is still reeling from the disaster that was Typhoon Odette, this wonderful news of Mark’s triumph was indeed a welcome respite.
“A dream come true”, is how Magsayo described it. Mark (24-0, 16 KOs) won via an upset majority decision, with two judges giving slim 115-113 scores, and the third judge giving a lone dissenting 114-114 draw. With that, Mark defied the betting odds which had more fans favoring the durable and more experienced Russell.
It is to coach Freddie Roach’s credit that Magsayo – a huge underdog going into the fight – came out vastly improved. Freddie trained his 26-year old new protege to use his size and reach advantage to the hilt, flicking those jabs, producing crisp combinations that rocked Russell’s head and body alternately. Mark was no longer a simple headhunter, as he displayed a body attack that had long been just a hidden part of his arsenal previously. Mark was the aggressor all throughout the fight, and he displayed a more solid defense that stopped Russell’s occasional counterattacks no end. Compared to his performance against Julio Ceja last year, Mark’s offensive and defensive games were just so vastly improved. (Pls read: Is Magsayo Ready For A Title Fight?) The flaws may still be there – and a lot of these were exposed by the wily Russell – but clearly, training under Freddie Roach has already benefited Mark’s game immensely. And he certainly has so much upside still.
Unknown to many, the 33-year old Gary Russell Jr (31-2, 18 KOs) had suffered a torn tendon in his right shoulder barely 2 weeks before the fight. This would take time to heal, and thus take away much of his training time. Sadly, Gary would reinjure his bum shoulder in the 4th round, making Gary a one-fisted fighter the rest of the way. Much of Gary’s previous knockout wins had come from his deadly right hook. And his right jab was the perfect opening act for his mean left straight. From the 5th round onwards, without his right hand, the gallant Gary was just half the fighter he used to be. Despite that however, the judges’ scorecards will attest to the fact that he still made the match a competitive one.
Some will salute Gary for continuing the fight despite the injury. He could have postponed the fight. But no, that proud warrior spirit in him would have none of that. And so, he pushed through with the fight. Others however criticize him for depriving fans of a true competition. As veteran boxing analyst Ed Tolentino would say: “Russell was cheating the fans. It is a dishonor to the profession if the boxer shows up not in good condition to provide a good fight.” He should have – and could have – asked for a postponement. It could have been a totally different story if Gary had a healthy right hand.
Gary was a champion for all of 6 years and 6 months. My salute to him. But now, just like everyone else before him, he must take the backseat to the new champ. A rematch perhaps could be negotiated, but this will now all depend on the World Boxing Council (WBC) and the new champ. However, his clock is ticking. At 33, he knows that his skill set will slowly wane as well. If he is to make a comeback, he will need to make a strong move soon.
What lies ahead for Mark ‘Magnifico’ Magsayo? Magsayo joins Nonito Donaire (WBC Bantamweight), Johnriel Casimero (WBO Bantamweight), Jerwin Ancajas (IBF Jr Bantamweight), and Rene Cuarto (IBF Strawweight) as Filipino world boxing champs. This early, a horde of challengers are already knocking on his door. They know the circumstances behind his win, and they figure that the crown is up for grabbing. There are some quarters clamoring to unify the alphabet soup of title belts. The WBA has 2 champions in Leo Santa Cruz and Leigh Wood; IBF has Kiko Martinez; WBO has Emmanuel Navarrete; while The Ring Magazine has the title vacant. And the WBC has mandated a title fight against the taller and equally dangerous Rey Vargas (35-0, 22 KOs) of Mexico. This could be another big challenge for Mark, although it looks like Mark’s camp is looking elsewhere for his next opponent.
But as a new champion, Mark will have gained supreme confidence in his fight skills. A championship belt has an uncanny way of doing wonders to fighters’ mindsets. And under the continued tutelage of Freddie Roach, Mark will continue to learn the champions’ ways. In the same manner that Manny Pacquiao learned to hone his skills under Freddie, expect Mark to experience a similar transformation that will elevate his game even further.
With Manny Pacquiao hanging up his gloves, Filipino sports fans are looking for the next champ to rally around. (Pls read: What Lies Ahead for Philippine Pro Boxing After Pacquiao?) Nonito Donaire is the most senior and appears the easy choice to be the heir apparent to Manny’s throne. But he is on the tail-end of his career as well. Mark is young, he has the demeanor, the charisma and the proper attitude that could very well make him a great fighter and an equally great fan-favorite. He has the ‘masa’ lineage people can easily identify with. And he has the looks, he has the Roach pedigree. Is Mark Magsayo going to be the second coming of Manny Pacquiao? We’ll probably know in a year or two.
For a closer look, just click on the pics. Cover photo courtesy of NYFights.com. Other photos courtesy of ringTV.com, Inquirer.net, The Boxing Scene, Sporting News, Premiere Boxing Champions, USA Today, Bad Left Hook, EUR Web, Sky Sports and Yahoo.com.