Vanity in boxing is as paradoxical to the sport as it is commonplace. Muhammad Ali was a pioneer in that respect, challenging the status quo of what was macho and masculine by calling himself “pretty” during the 1960s, decades before Floyd Mayweather Jr. turned pro out of the 1996 Olympics carrying the moniker “Pretty Boy.”
Marc Pagcaliwangan, a junior featherweight prospect from the town of London in the Ontario province of Canada, has given his own spin on the trend by affixing the sobriquet “Gwapo” to the back of his trunks. Gwapo, which translates to “handsome” in his parents’ native tongue Tagalog, is both a nod to his ancestral homeland of the Philippines and his confidence.
The name, which was given to him by his manager and trainers, stuck. And after five fights without a loss, the 23-year-old boxer-puncher’s face remains unmarked after a year as a professional fighter.
“I wanna take things bit by bit, my first goal is to be the first Filipino to win a Canadian title, and then I’ll see where I go from there,” said Pagcaliwangan (5-0, 5 knockouts), belying his self confidence.
Pagcaliwangan’s next assignment, this Saturday at Powerade Centre in the Toronto suburb of Brampton, Ontario, is also unlikely to add any blemishes to his face or record.
Four days before the fight, event organizers are still trying to nail down an opponent for the main event bout. Pagcaliwangan says that they’re juggling between a Polish fighter and one from Nova Scotia, Canada. Organizers say that several opponents have fallen out in the mean time, and that others have been rejected by the local commission.
That’s not to say that matchmakers haven’t tried to test him yet.
In his third fight earlier this year, Pagcaliwangan was matched with Laszlo Fekete, a Hungarian with a 6-0 record built almost exclusively in Slovakia. Pagcaliwangan stalked aggressively, but the moment he was hit, Fekete seemingly decided he wasn’t interested in fighting. Fekete turned his back and began talking to the crowd, and lost his mouthpiece when Pagcaliwangan stiffed him with a left hook. Fekete quit in the first round.
In Pagcaliwangan’s next bout, he was matched with Dominican boxer Jose Adan Fernandez, who entered with a 2-0 record. Fernandez seemed game but outsized, weathering Pagcaliwangan’s early blitz but quitting after the first round citing a hand injury.
“With shrugged shoulders, I haven’t a clue,” said Mark Erwin, Pagcaliwangan’s manager, when asked why those two step-up bouts failed to test his fighter. “I have no intention of bringing Marc along too slowly. I see his work ethic and the improvements each and every day. We want rounds, we want tough. We just had no idea that two undefeated fighters with a combined record of 8-0 would simply quit after tasting Marc’s power. It’s mind boggling.”
As it were, Pagcaliwangan got more of a test in his most recent fight in June against a fighter named John Brown with a record of 0-1. Pagcaliwangan knocked him flat in the opening round with an uppercut-left hook combination.
Pagcaliwangan was born in Toronto but raised in London. His mother is a nurse born in the Zamboanga province of the Philippines, while his father is from Lipa City, Batangas, Philippines and works as a project manager for MedTech Wristbands. Pagcaliwangan was first introduced to boxing at the age of six through his cousin, who was a boxing fanatic. He trained in Taekwondo, but after his cousin showed him the art of fist fighting, his Taekwondo instructor became frustrated.
“My Taekwondo master was complaining to my dad that I punch too much, and Taekwondo is all about your feet,” remembers Pagcaliwangan.
It wasn’t until he was 13 that he began to think seriously about pursuing boxing. That’s when he saw the movie Ali, starring Will Smith. Another moment that affected him was watching on television when Filipino boxing icon Manny Pacquiao lost to Erik Morales in a thriller in 2005.
“From then on, I knew I wanted to fight and represent Filipinos the way he did,” said Pagcaliwangan.
Shortly after, Pagcaliwangan’s father took him to Ring London Boxing, where he trained under the guidance of Adam Buckley. His amateur career consisted of 45 fights, during which he won three Ontario Golden Gloves titles and two Provincial championships.
Pagcaliwangan was brought to the attention of Mark Erwin by Robert Cruz, a writer for the PhilBoxing.com website who had seen him in the amateurs. From there, Pagcaliwangan signed a promotional deal with Hennessy Sports, which is overseen in Canada by Adam Harris. Hennessy Sports also promotes heavyweight contender Tyson Fury, as well as Canadian prospects Tyler Asselstine and Logan McGuinness.
Pagcaliwangan relocated to Montreal to start his pro career, where he now trains with Ian MacKillop, a retired middleweight who had a record of 25-12-3 (14 KOs) before retiring in 2010. His other assistants include Glen Erjas, whom he has worked primarily with him for this fight due to location matters, and Socrates Celestial.
“Marc is a very disciplined pupil,” said Erjas. “He is always striving to be a better boxer. He’s always asks for more when we are in camp.”
“[Marc] has a real sense of pride, determination, vigor and a forthright approach in his daily routines,” said Erwin, 50, who likens his relation to Pagcaliwangan to father-son. “He is very, very focused and disciplined. He has an immense amount of respect and he is quite humble. He takes care of the tasks put before him.
“[His future is] difficult to articulate his future at this stage,” continued Erwin. “We truly focus on one day at a time. What I can say is this: Marc is a proud young man with a big heart. Marc has a dream. I want to help him make all of his dreams come true.”
All of Pagcaliwangan’s previous fights had been in Montreal; Saturday’s bout will be the first in his home province. Despite the increased expectations to sell tickets and the other distractions that can come along with it, he insists it’s just another day at the office.
“I have no social life,” said Pagcaliwangan of his home life. “All I do is train. I live around boxing and I’m always thinking about boxing and I’m always watching boxing. My life is being a pro boxer. I miss my family and friends in London. When I’m in London, I keep my life simple and low key. I never go out. I’m at home with my family and close friends, or I’d be at the boxing gym.”
It’s that kind of dedication that will keep his face “guapo” in the long run.
Photo / @GwapoMarcp
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to The Ring magazine and GMA News. He can be reached at [email protected]. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.