Saturday, May 18, 2024  |



For Mark Magsayo, a happy fighter is a dangerous fighter

Mark Magsayo sports a smile as he undergoes neck strengthening exercises. Photo from Team Magsayo
Fighters Network

ONTARIO, Calif. —It’s quite a risk to go from your first career defeat to another tough fight in your next outing, but Mark Magsayo is feeling like a new fighter these days. The 27-year-old Filipino fan favorite has a new head coach, a new gym, and a new outlook on his career as he heads into his WBC interim featherweight title fight this Saturday against Brandon Figueroa at the Toyota Arena in Ontario, live on Showtime Championship Boxing.

Magsayo (24-1, 16 knockouts) will walk to the ring with his compatriot Marvin Somodio by his side, just as he has for each of his last six fights since relocating to Southern California, but this time Somodio will be the head coach as he takes over duties from his mentor Freddie Roach.

Magsayo cites communication – both Magsayo and Somodio are native speakers of the Filipino language Bisaya – as a primary reason for the switch. They’ve made a few adjustments to how they run camp, beginning with allowing Magsayo to invite friends to observe his training and sparring at the Brickhouse Boxing Gym in Hollywood.

Just like his promoter Manny Pacquiao, Magsayo finds that audiences energize him in camp.

The only physical difference one will notice are the smiles on the faces of Magsayo and team, which he says have made camp more enjoyable.

“I’m happy and comfortable when I’m in training. When you’re happy in training it feels more smooth,” said Magsayo, who is fighting for the first time since losing the WBC featherweight title to Rey Vargas last July by split decision.

Somodio, a former national team amateur boxing standout from Iloilo City, Philippines, says they have been in camp together since October, and have established a system where they communicate openly about how training should go.

“He’s a happy person, he enjoys training. He can give his opinion in training and we adjust. He is a very good fighter, all I’m doing is guiding him and reminding what he does best,” said Somodio, 39.

Trainers Marvin Somodio, Pedro Garcia and Ash Parker laugh as Magsayo enjoys a light moment at the gym.

If ever there was a time to be clicking on all cylinders, it’s now. 

Figueroa (23-1-1, 18 KOs) is an all-out pressure fighter from Weslaco, Tex. While Magsayo’s stock dipped with his loss to the then-unbeaten Vargas, Figueroa’s stock rose in his lone defeat, a majority decision loss to Stephen Fulton in a 122-pound unification bout in 2021. That, and the manner in which he took apart Carlos Castro in six rounds on the Magsayo-Vargas undercard in San Antonio, is why the 26-year-old is seen as a solid favorite to win in the twelve-round fight.

Figueroa is a significant departure from the safety-first boxers Vargas and Gary Russell Jr., whom Magsayo outpointed to win the title last year. It’s a style switch which comes with its pros and cons for Magsayo.

“I need stamina and a jab and more combinations that can affect his style. I need to be smart in this fight,” said Magsayo. 

“I can punch Figueroa easily. If he gets hit hard he’s going to feel it, then I think he’s gonna run.”

Magsayo says he’s reassured that he has seen Somodio study Figueroa’s past fights, and is confident about the adjustments they will make in the fight.

“It’s a good style because he stays in front and is easy to hit but it is also difficult because he is tough, durable and throws a lot of punches. One thing for sure is this is going to be a very good fight for the fans,” said Somodio.

The soft-spoken Somodio, who has worked with fighters like Miguel Cotto, Jose Ramirez and Brian Viloria, among many others at the Wild Card, has been there with Magsayo as he processed the emotions following his first defeat. 

“It made me a better fighter because I came back stronger in training and sparring. I was a little depressed when I got my first loss, I was sad a few weeks but after that I came back strong,” said Magsayo.

“It was very tough for him because he knew he is better than that. It took him months before he got over it,” added Somodio.

If he can beat the odds against Figueroa, it’d open the doors to a rematch with Vargas, who is going through the same process that Magsayo had to deal with after losing to O’Shaquie Foster last month in a fight for the vacant WBC junior lightweight title.

For now, Magsayo is smiling, and enjoying his work.

“I’m gonna prove them wrong that I’m still there. That’s my goal. I’m hungrier than before because I need to get back on track. I feel like I’m ready to fight right now,” said Magsayo.

Ryan Songalia has written for ESPN, the New York Daily News, Rappler and The Guardian, and is part of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism Class of 2020. He can be reached at [email protected].