Mark F. Villanueva

Did Irvin Magno Lose to Kevin Hooper?

Irvin Magno vs Kevin Hooper

Irvin Magno (Left) with Matthew Hatton

Away from the spotlight, the drowning din of the Beachcomber Club crowd, Buxton prizefighter Irvin Magno was stitched up for a gash below his right eye by the doctor on duty. In the spotless, brightly-lit hospital room of immaculate white walls there seems to be no space for a shadow to grow out of, except in the recesses of the challenger’s mind.

“I feel lost but…” Magno, whose professional boxing record drops to 4-3-1 said.

He sat up, saw past his attending physician, the nurses about, and hospital staffs with weary, emotional eyes wondering how, and the moral of it all, after all the weeks of grinding preparations and utter hard work he’d put in, could such an opportunity slip out of his hands still. He trains so no stone is ever left unturned, and yet here was another one, nestled in the shade of doubt.

Irvin Magno fought twice in a span of two weeks; the latest just before his body could completely heal itself from the rigors of a tough match up. He slowly establishes himself as an all-out fighter and the crowd loves him for laying it all down on the line each time he mixes it up with an opponent. It’s a style that will make him, yet could likely break him in the long run, I said, suggesting a more cerebral approach.

His previous opponent, Ibrar “Smokin” Riyaz, out of Reading, Berkshire, put him to a highly physical slugfest and paid for it. The rugged thirty-two year old fighter walked directly toward Magno at the sound of the bell, and soon the latter rang bells in his head with punches in bunches; being the implacable aggressor he is reputed for. They both slugged it out to the finish, fighting tooth and nail, to the crowd’s delight, with Irvin Magno winning it.

What a way for a young man to build up his popularity in the prizefighting scene, to fight with his all, such energy emanating from a seemingly bottomless pit of emotion. But at what cost, and for how long it can be sustained is a different matter.

Victory over “Smokin” set him up for the bigger challenge – to vie for the British Classic Challenge belt versus Kevin Hooper in Lincolnshire, U. K. It was Magno’s first eight-round bout, and he had to travel to the reigning champ’s backyard a huge underdog. Against the tested thirty-three year old with a record of 19-5, Magno went ablazing from the start before a frenetic crowd. Local spectators did not know who he was then, except that he was a late replacement with two loses in six fights. Irvin Magno went out to prove that numbers do belie, that the losses and a draw in his record do not make up for even half of the fighter he is. And prove it he did.

He fought the taller, bigger, heavier boxer from the bottom up. He attacked the body whenever the opportunity arose, and the whacking sounds his heavy hands made muddled with the shouting and the heckles of the electrified crowd, and soon all of it became a long wail with no high and low pitch- only highs, letting up only in between rounds.

Kevin Hooper, the champion and local favorite, outlasted the eight-round onslaught by Irvin Magno. Without a doubt he must be glad it did not last a single minute more, or the tide would have steered clearly toward Magno’s favor henceforth. Magno believes that he has done enough to clinch it. He was the aggressor that night with a high punch output to back it up, yet in the same token it made his defense more vulnerable. In that sense it could have gone either way. However, the judges must have thought that to beat the champion one must do it convincingly, which must be the only line of reasoning enough to give justice to the razor thin scoring difference of 77-76 for Hooper.

Irvin Magno sat at the hospital analyzing his mistakes. All that power and energy he’d accumulated during training had been wasted on a less tactical approach and an incessant offensive. He now claims to know the things that he needs to work on. He talked about his rhythm, proper pacing, and boxing more, brawling less. Each time he spoke about these changes and the notion of adding new things to his training his eyes lit up. He did not look beaten anymore, only too eager. When he went out of the hospital and into the night, being lost was the last thing he ever was.

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Mark F. Villanueva

Conor McGregor vs Floyd Mayweather: Tough Ain’t Enough in Boxing

Conor McGregor vs Floyd Mayweather
Conor McGregor’s boxing skills may have been a big mystery to many, but it doesn’t take one to be an expert of the sport to know that he’d lost his fight against Floyd Mayweather the very day he brutally undermined the discipline itself. Leading up to the match against the defensive genius he declared boxing as some sort of a breather for him ‘cause he’d only have to worry about two hands. There’d be no kicks, no grappling, and that sort. Just boxing, as easy as if the sport had not been sharpened to perfection for hundreds of years.

It wasn’t that experts knew for a fact that he ultimately lacked the skill or the experience to box, or the endurance to fight for the whole gamut that did him in, but through his mouth; the very same orifice that belched out at the podium dragon-like. It doesn’t really matter what sport one gets involved in one needs to respect it. The same goes for boxers planning on a crossover to the MMA.

“Trust me on that,” the Irishman said. He declared he’d be the future god of boxing, and his hardcore fans rallied forth behind him. Many of them knew he would never beat Floyd Mayweather, but stood by him anyway and they deserve a special kind of respect for it. McGregor said he’d knock him out in the fourth round, and a massive number of fans actually believed he would. He said it’d be done in one round, and others shared the story like news, blindly even, not unlike fake news one reads about today’s politics.

Ask a blind follower how that was possible and the likelihood is that one draws out specious arguments about his toughness and power as the key. But speed and power are no more than mere raw resources. But, no, some said and went on to destroy Mayweather’s persona. He’s a chicken they say. He’s afraid, they say, even after he’s formally signed up to fight against McGregor whose size difference is quite staggering. The enemy is not who you fight in the squared circle, but yourself.

What has Conor McGregor have to offer apart from his size and MMA background? All that supposed power is nothing without the proper execution of one’s punches- timing, form and all, or against someone who reads them a mile away. And one ought to know sheer toughness isn’t enough in boxing. If it were that simple wouldn’t you suppose everyone would be doing it, so to speak?

In spite of his obvious disadvantages McGregor fans opted to believe he could do it. If he could touch him, he’d knock him out, he said, and they trusted him without proper vetting. Bless them. They all saw him look like a clown during public training and they hailed it as a unique approach to something that’s already been there way before their great grandfathers were ever born.

Conor McGregor did get to hit the comparatively diminutive Floyd Mayweather, who walked him down with a smile on his face. He didn’t run around even if he could, and as many have expected. When was the last time “Money” Mayweather ever started a round without jabbing? Surprisingly, he didn’t employ proper distancing, too, nor did he bother to cut the ring. At one point of the fight both fighters were so boxed up they looked like they were about to dance to a sweet song. You would never see Floyd Mayweather like that in his career, squared up and all.

Despite all the talk of size and power, McGregor had all the chances in the world to hit him, and hit him he did, but the smaller boxer just wouldn’t go down. McGregor didn’t even create a dent on an opponent whose head he had sworn to crush. Let’s not even talk about him fighting a boxer of his size, like maybe Golovkin? Sure, it was fun for a minute.

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Mark F. Villanueva

Poor Manny Pacquiao

pacquiao horn

Days leading up to the fight Australia’s Jeff Horn spoke about the need to control the distance against Manny Pacquiao and did the exact opposite of that when they fought. Whatever space there was between themselves he had tried to chew up, and he absorbed punch after punch a surprised Pacquiao threw at him.

He would occasionally land a shot of his own. His uppercuts were impressive, and many of Freddie Roach’s fighters are vulnerable to it. Whenever the defending champion tried to work things up he’d clinch him, lean and throw his weight knowing very well that he is the bigger man. They’d get tied up and the supposedly inexperienced Horn would elbow him and push him around. That way the audience felt that age has finally caught up with the 38-year-old legend whose timing was also a bit off.

Manny Pacquiao should have complained about how the title contender was flinging himself head-first and the roughhousing, but remains as stoic as he’s always been all his life, having grown up in the toughest sections of society almost perennially disadvantaged. He steadfastly worked his way around his troubles instead and Compubox numbers support the efficacy of this effort. The referee warned of stopping the fight at the ninth round when Jeff Horn almost went down with his face masked in blood.

Like Manny Pacquiao’s rise back in the heydays of his career, the storyline of the day was about true grit and determination- only not his, but of Jeff Horn’s. These traits were so high and admirable that the numbers that surround the fight could never match up to it. Manny Pacquiao should have won that fight almost every expert on the sport all over the world would say, but there’s no denying Horn fought like a true champion too. Manny Pacquiao should have won all right, and the imposing Australian would have gone home with glee, knowing deep in his heart he had exceeded himself against one of the finest prizefighters in history.

Somewhere in Mindanao a farmer listening to Baleleng with his radio abandons his implement in the stifling heat, walks across the field and throws an occasional hook. A Filipino doctor walks round the hospital in America with pride and shuffles his feet like Ali. A Filipina housemaid in the Middle East pauses to daydream about being with her family for a minute before continuing with her workaday chores. In Australia, Manny Pacquiao smiles a smile Filipinos are all too familiar with and well known for.

Wherever a Filipino may be, nigh or far, they were all in beautiful Brisbane fighting for a better life, believing, following his lead. Ah! Poor Manny, yet always rich at heart. This is the same spirit that would not be overcome even by the Spanish conquistadors for hundreds of years.

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Mark F. Villanueva

Boxing Insight: Irvin Magno vs Fonz Alexander

When my father was just a kid, at the plaza of what is now known as the city of Cabadbaran, he took the challenge that was offered in the open to fight the reigning champion in a slugfest in honor of Nuestra Seniora de Candelaria. He took the fight to him all right, being the fighting man that I know he was, surprising the champ by stepping up from among the crowd to beat him fair and square, as family legend has it.

While parents instinctively rush to check a child’s face upon knowledge of a fight my grandmother almost collapsed on her place the very instance dope of it reached her ears. I guess it goes without saying that not too many parent-boxer tandems succeed in the higher levels of the sport for that special relationship both parties have for each other. So when Irvin Magno (3-2-1) fought Fonz Alexander (3-3) on May 27, 2017 at the Bowler’s Arena in Manchester, I pondered how his father, Mr. Ian Magno, who passed away before he decided to turn professional, would have fared on his corner.

At 5’11” Fonz Alexander could have easily kept a much shorter fighter (5’6” in this case) at a distance with his jabs. It’s the logical thing to do, to fight tall and safest by picking his shots; to let the burden of proving oneself be on Irvin Magno who must bring the fight against the odds. But Alexander was not able to do that at all. His jab didn’t come as often as expected and Magno made him miss by regularly tipping his head to his left, dipping his left shoulder to signal his intentions of throwing a lethal uppercut to the body.

Surprisingly, despite the shorter reach, it was Magno who controlled that part of the fight. It’s like having a point guard dominate the rebounding department in a game of hoops. He staggers his opponent with the supposedly weaker hand, walks him down the corner, back heavy against the ropes, for some roughhousing.

Irvin Magno would put together six-punch combinations unanswered, and there are now clever variations to his punches, so it becomes harder to counter. He wouldn’t throw all his weight on a single attempt and lean back with cunning, and finish it up with beautifully timed fusillades. Occasionally, Fonz Alexander would come up with a wide hook, hoping to plot an escape route with it. But Magno would hunker down low, as if lying for cover in a field from an air assault and jump back up to return fire with hooks of his own.

From being a hard-nosed fighter, Irvin Magno is evolving into something way much slicker. His father wouldn’t worry too much now about a broken nose or a broken jaw because he’s learning the toughest part of boxing quite nicely: Defense. Everyone can punch, sure, like all them folks at a high-end gym looking so pretty and cute, but not everyone can detect something coming a mile away, as it were, with one’s ears close to the ground. In fact, he’s synchronizing his offense-defense with his jab effectively by tilting his head whenever he throws it, propelled by those powerful legs. It’s like slipping inside a small crack in the cave of Alexander’s defense, if you ask me. And then Alexander bears the brunt of his punches, and Magno sure can string them up deftly that it oddly reminds me of grandmother in her room doing some weave work in her turn-of-the-century home near the park.

It seems that his weight program is working wonders. This has been my primary concern when I first saw him going at it, fearing it may compromise his flexibility. Just a couple of months ago I asked the greatest living fighter in history, the “Sugar” Ray Leonard himself about using weights in boxing, and his reply directly validated my thoughts on the subject.

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No, the late Ian Magno wouldn’t have to worry too much all right. In the first place, his son had taken his toughest lessons to heart after settling with a draw and being given two straight losses he certainly did not deserve. In the second place, he’s not letting his three straight victories go to his head. From offense to defense, in victory or in defeat, everything seems to be transitioning smoothly like the slick champion boxer he wants to be. Ian Magno could not have left him all this time and IS doing a great job. All concerned would refuse to believe otherwise.

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Mark F. Villanueva

Roman Gonzalez vs. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai: Chocolatito Wins in Loss

Roman-Gonzalez-vs-Srisaket-Sor-RungvisaiNicaraguan pro boxer Roman Gonzalez and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai of Thailand aligned themselves in the middle of the ring, setting themselves up like cowboys in the wild wild west for a draw. The crowd had already seen the unheralded Thai tumble in their imagination, expecting a quick end to his attempt to unseat the number one ranked fighter in the world pound for pound.

Gasps followed as it was Chocolatito instead who fell on the canvas from a stealthy shot to the body. Nobody could believe it, more so beyond belief was Roman, the man unbeaten in more than a decade with a record of 46-0. Gonzales got up, unflinching, now almost denuded as a fighter to everyone’s prying eyes.

Roman Gonzalez fought the next rounds like a man who realizes he’s got nothing to lose. While most cheered him on, naturally, some started to discount his achievements now that a weakness in his armor has been surprisingly discovered. Those who questioned his status in the boxing world in the first place would start with the usual phrase of “I told you so…”

Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, a former trash collector, proved like many relentless boxers before him, that hard work does indeed pay off. Where once he had to eat garbage just to survive, he’s now atop the WBC super flyweight class.

Hurting Roman Gonzalez only meant opening the Pandora’s box for Rungvisai. Chocolatito waged war against him, which at some stages in the fight didn’t seem to cease. It was ferocious from then on, the punches just rained on him, and he’d fire back with some of his own. Gonzalez would not stop pounding him whenever he started, pulling off a string of combinations at a time. In fact, he set a junior bantamweight record by landing 372 power shots.

Chocolatito’s position even worsened after he suffered a gash after a clash of heads. He bled profusely, but fought it out consistently. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai’s knockdown advantage evened off at the sixth round when he was deducted a point for another headbutt. He found himself hurt a couple of times, and had difficulties warding off Gonzalez in spite of his punches seemingly more powerful.

Roman Gonzalez said the bout’s result shocked him and asks for an immediate rematch. “I am happy to be back in my country. I was not happy with the ruling, I know it was a difficult fight but I never imagined that I would lose.”

And for most, he did not. He stepped in the ring as the best fighter in the world and showed everyone why, even as he walked away with his first loss… bare, nothing to hide, undefeated.

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