Anxiously smiling while tapping his heart with his fist. Mark Magsayo instantly dropped to his knees and cried out “Thank You” when he heard Jimmy Lennon Jr. utter the words, “and the new Featherweight Champion of the world.” A four-to-one underdog, Magsayo wasn't given much chance of beating the veteran champion Gary Russell Jr. The upset win over Russell instantly changed Magsayo's life. Whether signing autographs, spending time with his family, or raising money for sick children, the Filipino native is living his best life.
In an exclusive interview for NYFights, I recently talked with the champion while he was on vacation, catching up on some much-needed rest. So, what was it that Mark knew about himself that perhaps the rest of us missed in the lead up to the Russell fight?
“Nobody thought I could beat Garry Russell,” said the champion confidently. Magsayo continued, “But I trained hard every day. We focused on his style. We brought in sparring partners that had the same style as Gary Russell. All my sparring partners mimicked his style in the fight. I was confident that I was ready to win the fight.”
Hard work is the fundamental constant in Mark's life. This value has carried the Filipino pugilist from slinging ice cream cones in the Philippines to a world title fight in Atlantic City, NJ. Growing up in poverty, Magsayo's parents did their best to provide for the family. Mark's father was a baker, and his mother was a bread vendor. As a young boy, he worked as an ice cream vendor to help the family make ends meet.
At the tender age of eight, Mark knew that he had to find a way to provide a better life for himself and his family. Then he saw the Filipino legend Manny Pacquiao fight, and that's when he found his calling. “We were very poor. I started to train for boxing because of Manny Pacquiao. He fought in 2003 against Marco Antonio Barrera, and I started to train in 2004. I've been boxing since I was eight years old,” said Magsayo to NYFights.
After defeating Gary Russell Jr., Mark was finally able to change the lives of his family and close friends. Magsayo was able to buy his family a house, realizing a dream that he made to himself when he was eight years old. Thankful for everything in his life, the twenty-four-year-old champion uses his platform to help others in need. Recently he auctioned off a glove with his autograph to help raise money for a sick child.
“I wanted to help him because he is one of our friends. The doctors don't know what the sickness is. That's why I want to help financially. So, I did the auction to raise money. I'm so sad because the doctors don't know what to do. I want to help find a good doctor for him,” said Mark. The auction was successful, and he used all the proceeds to acquire better health care for the child.
“This was my first charity, and now I am involved with the WBC. The WBC cares about a lot of people dealing with sicknesses. They care a lot. Me, I want to help also. So, I will auction my gloves or my shirts and give the money to help. I want to thank the people that donated. Thank you so much. I appreciate it,” said the champ graciously.
The memories of his childhood, winning more belts, and his family are the fuel that keeps the Magsayo victory train running. “Every fight is achieving a dream, and I must keep on going,” said Mark humbly. However, in boxing, victories are short-lived. And for some fighters, it won't be long before they find themselves back in the ring waging war against another opponent. For “El Magnifico,” the battle date is set for July 9th in San Antonio, Texas, against the rugged Mexican Rey Vargas. The Filipino champion has already started training for the fight, not wanting to take anything for granted.
“I already started training. Even though I'm on vacation, I'm still shadow boxing and doing pushups. Because I need to prepare every day. It's hard when you're a mandatory, and it's even harder when you're a champion. So, I keep myself training,” said Mark with a stern look. Magsayo was the bigger fighter in his previous fight against Gary Russell Jr. However, Vargas has a significant height and reach advantage over him. The Filipino gives up four and a half inches in height and two inches in reach compared to the Mexican. “What is your plan to take those advantages away from him,” I asked curiously.
“Coach Freddy, Marvin, and I already talked in the gym. Every day we talk about our opponent's style and height. Our plan is to use a lot of head movement and move forward with the jab. So, we can penetrate. His weaknesses are his legs and his chin. Every time he fights, he gets knocked down. He got lucky that his opponents were not like me. But it's me now,” said the champ while laughing.
Don't mistake Magsayo's comments for false bravado. He and his team understand that Vargas is a tough out. Vargas is undefeated in thirty-five fights and has won twenty-two of those contests by knockout. The Mexican was the former WBC super-bantamweight champion and defended that title successfully five times. However, Mark is trained by one of the greatest trainers in the world, Freddy Roach. The champion is confident that he will be prepared to defeat Vargas. “Freddy Roach has brought in various sparring partners that are tall and will attempt to mimic Vargas's fighting style. I'm confident that we will be ready to defeat Vargas this July 9th. I will be ready and victorious,” said Magsayo.
If “El Magnifico” retains the title against Vargas, he believes he will fight again this year. When asked about a potential rematch against Gary Russell Jr, the Filipino didn't mention Russell's name. “I think I'm going to fight two fights this year (including Rey Vargas). Probably a fight with Santa Cruz or a unification fight with Warrington,” said Magsayo. Mark continued, “But I'm going to focus first on Vargas. Vargas is tough and a tall guy. He has a lot of advantages. I have a lot of advantages too. I'm strong, and I have speed.”
The champ concluded the interview with a smile, saying, “To all my fans, please support me in this upcoming fight. This is going to be a good fight, an entertaining fight because my opponent is tall and he's tough. I'm going to do my best fight.”
Mark Magsayo is in a “strap collecting state of mind.” It's what he has dreamed about since he first donned a pair of boxing gloves. He knew he could be Gary Russell Jr. against all odds. And for the Filipino native, that's all the confidence he needed. It's a confidence that has fueled this poor ice cream vendor from the Philippines to beat one of the best fighters in the world and become a world champion.
Like my editor, Abraham Gonzalez, often says, “Self-confidence is a hell of a thing.” And its confidence that will fuel him when he fights Rey Vargas. Like Manny Pacquiao, Mark wants to be the people's champion. He wants to use his platform to help people in need. Mark Magsayo is a fighter whose character is the perfect blend of humanity and savagery that resonate with most boxing fans. So, as he hunts down world champions for their belts, it'll be hard to root against a fighter like Mark Magsayo.