Albert Pagara leads the next generation of Filipino boxers
A few weeks ago at the Wild Card Boxing Club, Albert and Jason Pagara and Mark Magsayo – who box for ALA Promotions in the Philippines – occupied the ring where Manny Pacquiao crafted his skills to world-class prominence. The Pagara brothers, who perform this weekend at the San Mateo Event Center in Northern California (beIN Sports Espanol, 11 p.m. ET), are among a vast lot of boxers from the Philippines.
When you think about boxers from this country, you almost automatically think of the “Pac Man” but before him were Pancho Villa (Francisco Guillerdo), Ceferino Garcia, Gabriel “Flash” Elorde, Luisito Espinoza and Gerry Penalosa, who boxed with great distinction throughout their professional careers.
Contrary to the popular belief of many casual fans, Pacquiao didn’t start the rich tradition of being a fighting Filipino; he was, however, the most visible by far. Alongside Floyd Mayweather Jr., he was the dominant figure in boxing over the past decade or so and, while it’s not clear if he will return to the ring, Senator Pacquiao will always cast a large shadow on any Filipino who enters the ring from here on out.
What Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. is to Mexican boxers and their people, Pacquiao is that to the Filipinos and perhaps even more.
On this Saturday afternoon, as the trio of boxers worked mitts, catching the 21-year-old Magsayo (an undefeated featherweight hopeful, who recently bludgeoned Chris Avalos in April) was Freddie Roach, who said of the trio earlier this week, “They’re hard-working kids and they’re with the ALA Boxing Club, which is a very good gym in Cebu. They’re very professional and the three of them are really hard-working, good kids.”
When seeing these young men enter the gym with their coaches (brothers Edito and Edmund Villamor), they remind one a lot of the young and impressionable Pacquiao, who roamed into this gym on Vine Street back in 2001. They are unfailingly polite to the point of shyness. They don’t say all that much and just put their heads down and get to work during their excursions to this Southern California landmark. For the time being, they still workout in the upstairs portion of the Wild Card, not the downstairs half, which is reserved for marquee names
Before Pacquiao was a transcendent figure, and perhaps the most important and famous person in his country, he was just like the Pagaras and Magsayo today.
Albert Pagara, who is currently rated in the Top 10 at junior featherweight by the IBF (No. 4), WBC (No. 10) and WBO (No. 2), takes on the rugged Cesar Juarez, who took Nonito Donaire to hell and back in Puerto Rico last December. The 22-year-old has a mark of 26-0 (18). Ryan Songalia, the sports editor for Rappler.com and a contributor to RingTV.com, who covers the Filipino boxing scene closely and moved back to the country in 2013, says of “Prince Albert,” “Many Filipinos have high hopes for Albert Pagara. He has the ability, a certain kind of swagger, which Filipinos might remember from a young Manny Pacquiao, and he has the look of a star. What still needs to be determined is how deep he’s willing to dig against a fighter who will push him to the limit physically. That question is expected to be answered when he faces Cesar Juarez.
“But to illustrate what kind of rising star Pagara is in the Philippines, I made a graphic of the top Filipino boxers for the news outlet I work for, Rappler.com. I listed four or five good fighters but didn’t include Albert Pagara. All of the comments were asking why Pagara wasn’t there. ALA Boxing’s ‘Pinoy Pride’ television series is a major attraction on Sunday mornings, routinely beating out weekend variety shows for ratings, and Pagara is often on television to promote the events. He is becoming a star and many are looking at him to lead the next generation of Filipino fighters. What appeals about Pagara to Filipinos is, some boxers on the way up are OK to just get the win and look good next time. Pagara always wants to look good.”
But while Pagara has tools and, as Songalia points out, a crowd-pleasing style, there are still rough edges to his overall game. With his hand-speed and frenetic pace, Magsayo reminds a bit of Pacquiao but one must wonder if he’s almost too reckless for his own good. For him, less (punching) might be more.
But given they are still in their early-20s, time is very much on their side.
According to Roach, who has spent plenty of time in the Philippines over the past decade, this pipeline of boxing talent is far from being dry. “You see young talent; there’s a couple of guys in Manny’s gym that have really good talent and Cebu is another island that has a lot of talent also. The Penalosas (Gerry and Dodie Boy) come out of there. So you have different areas,” the noted trainer points out. “Manila still has a lot of talent, also. There’s always kids trying to be the next Manny Pacquiao, working hard and to be at that level.”
But if Pacquiao is the standard, well, it will be one that will be almost impossible to reach. Pacquiao is a once-in-a-generation (at least) type of talent. He’s not just a Hall-of-Famer but considered among the all-time pugilistic greats.
“Once-in-a-lifetime, I know that for a fact,” stated Roach, who admits that if Pacquiao never walked through the doors of his gym, his life would be incredibly different. “I say that to people all day. Hopefully you can just win one world title and that’ll be good enough.”
During Pacquiao’s prime, many young Filipino hopefuls got a good boost from being associated with the whirlwind southpaw but with that also came the brunt of expectations. And if you happened to be left-handed like Marvin Sonsona or Mercito Gesta, well, the comparisons were inevitable – but, quite frankly, unfair and unrealistic at the same time.
It reminds one of the period between the mid-1980s and early-’90s when every basketball player who was above 6-foot-6 and could remotely handle the ball and pass well was compared to Magic Johnson (off the top of my head, the names Sean Elliott, John Williams, Walt Williams and Lloyd Daniels come to mind) but – as Lakers fans will tell you – there was only one Magic.
Perhaps what should be the standard for the next generation of Filipino prizefighters should be Brian Viloria and Nonito Donaire, who crafted highly productive careers that saw them win multiple world titles, be showcased on major platforms in both the Philippines and the States and make a fair amount of money. By every measure, their careers can be deemed successful. This also applies to Donnie Nietes, currently the WBO junior flyweight titlist and arguably the top fighter in the division.
The Philippines, like Mexico, will always produce boxing talent. Not only is it deeply rooted in its culture but there are socioeconomic factors that necessitate boxing as an option for a certain percentage of the populace. Very few in this country sleep in silk pajamas. And yes, more young talent is on the way, according to Rian Scalia (who has an encyclopedic knowledge of the international and amateur scene). Rogen Ladon, Eumir Marcial, Charly Suarez and Mark Anthony Barriga are worth keeping an eye on.
As for professional prospects, along with Pagara, Scalia (whose Twitter handle is @rian5ca) is high on Kevin Jake Cataraja and Giemel Magramo. According to Songalia, 19-year-old Raymart Gaballo, a bantamweight with a record of 14-0 (12) is ”the next big thing from the Philippines.” Also, junior bantamweight Jerwin Ancajas has shown promise and is in line for a title shot against IBF titlist McJoe Arroyo.
The key for this generation is to have its own identity, according to Roach.
“The thing I hear all the time: ‘The next Manny Pacquiao and the next thing I say is, ‘You’re not going to be the next Manny Pacquiao.’ Let’s face it; eight world titles (in as many divisions) is unrealistic.” Pacquiao also came at a perfect time where he had rivals such as Juan Manuel Marquez, Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales that helped elevate his profile and helped launch him into a marquee attraction in America.
But according to Songalia, maybe the pressure to fill those shoes (which used to be sponsored by Nike) really doesn’t exist anymore in the Philippines.
“I believe there is that realization now, perhaps even cynicism after certain boxers being pushed as the next Pacquiao over the past 10 years. Many boxers even started fighting like Pacquiao, converting to southpaw and trying to emulate his style to limited success.
“Pacquiao was a different beast and even Pagara’s handlers will attest to that. But there can be another boxer who comes along with swagger and captures the public’s attention, like Rolando Navarrete or even Gerry Penalosa did. There will always be boxing stars in a country with as much poverty as this one. But Pagara will have to be himself, instead of trying to be another Pacquiao.”
Here’s the latest edition of “10 Count” with Michael Montero, Doug Fischer and Yours Truly, as we take a look at the upcoming bouts for IBF/WBA/WBO light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev and Andre Ward before their November clash.
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