THE featherweight division churns out another enticing matchup this weekend when world number three, Mark Magsayo, takes on the fifth-ranked Brandon Figueroa at Ontario’s Toyota Arena in California on Saturday night (March 4).
Both combatants have some skeletons in their closet. For Magsayo, 24-1 (16), he’s looking to bounce back from a July defeat to Rey Vargas while this is Figueroa’s second outing since he was outpointed by Stephen Fulton, down at super-bantamweight, in November 2021. Like those bouts, this one is over the 12-round distance. For what it’s worth, the WBC interim bauble is at stake.
Magsayo’s loss to Vargas came after proving himself among the leaders with a January 2022 win over Gary Russell Jnr. Before that, the US-based Filipino knocked out Julio Ceja in 10 wild rounds. In all three contests, Magsayo showcased both his promise and limitations at the highest level.
The loss to Vargas persuaded the 27-year-old Magsayo to make some tweaks to his training team with Marvin Somodio taking Freddie Roach’s place as head coach. Somodio, once a star of the Philippine amateur boxing team, had been working under Roach since he quit fighting after a brief professional career in 2011. His move to develop his own gym and stable was embraced by Magsayo who leaves Roach on good terms, citing communication as the main reason behind the move; both Magsayo and Somodio speak the Filipino language of Bisaya.
“I can understand more when coach Marvin explains to me the instructions I need,” said Magsayo, originally from Tagbilaran City in Bohol, Philippines. “I feel I have more chemistry with him as we have the same culture, come from the same region too where we grew up with the same dialect.”
Figueroa is the 2/7 favourite. Though relatively new to the featherweight division – he stopped the decent Carlos Castro in six rounds in July in his only previous encounter in the weight class – he’s mixed with better company overall. A pressure fighter with serious pop in both hands, the 23-1-1 (18) Texan is also taller by two inches (at 5ft 8ins) and his arms are longer by more than four (his reach is 72.5ins compared to Magsayo’s 68). Technically sound from the outside, Figueroa is a master of cutting down distance and letting his hands fly up close.
“I know exactly what I’m doing when I fight inside the pocket,” said the 26-year-old. “When I’m inside, I’m really comfortable and I know how to work. I can let my body shots off from there. We’ve worked on a lot of things though, because I know Magsayo is a heavy hitter like me.”
It was a tactic that fell narrowly short against the brilliant Fulton, but that he gave him such a tough examination suggests that Magsayo – in camp since October – is going to find it difficult to replicate the Philadelphian’s success. And it could be argued that losing a tight one to Fulton remains an admirable effort in a way that Magsayo’s defeat to Vargas was not. Though the Filipino had his moments against Vargas, he struggled with the reach and industry of the Mexican who, though solid enough, always has the look of a beatable boxer.
“I learned from my last fight that I needed to adjust for a fighter with a reach advantage like Rey Vargas,” Magsayo countered. “I really thought I won the fight, but I respect the judges. I’m coming to use my power and damage and hit Figueroa hard.”
Magsayo can box cleverly and bang with authority. That aforementioned win over Ceja, where Magsayo rallied to score the KO in round 10 after falling behind on the cards, is testament to his power. When Figueroa met Ceja in 2019, he was fortunate to get a share of the spoils after 12 gruelling rounds. Worth noting that Ceja – like Fulton – found Figueroa to be a willing target and one who can struggle to change his approach if his demonic free-swinging style isn’t working. With that in mind, Magsayo has more than just an outside chance of victory and is very much a live ‘dog.
But the sensible money will likely be placed on Figueroa, particularly if those gambling witnessed his 2021 destruction of the previously undefeated Luis Nery. Figueroa again had problems that night but once he’d improved his aim, Nery simply could not cope. In the end, the most spiteful of body punches put Nery down and out in round seven. To win, therefore, Magsayo will need to be switched on from the first bell to the last.
Yet the attention of Magsayo, priced at 3/1, has been known to wander. Whether that can solely be blamed on communication issues with Roach remains to be seen but what Figueroa does so well is force his opponents to fight back and, in the process, invite mistakes. Magsayo, we feel, just makes too many of them for him not to get punished. Though we shouldn’t rule out Magsayo putting on something of a clinic, the feeling is that he’ll end up being rescued in the second half of the contest.
On the undercard, former super-welterweight belt-holder Jarrett Hurd, 24-2 (16), will be hoping to regain some long lost momentum against Mexico’s Jose Armando Resendiz, 13-1 (9) in a middleweight 10-rounder.
Hurd hasn’t fought since he was outpointed over the same distance by fringe contender Luis Arias in June 2021. That reverse came two years after an upset loss to Julian Williams; it feels like an awfully long time ago that Hurd was beating quality men like Erislandy Lara, Austin Trout and Tony Harrison. Now 32, one wonders if we’ll ever see him again. But he’s surely too good for Resendiz, who has not fought anyone of note.
In the same division, promising Uruguayan prospect, Amilcar Vidal, 16-0 (12), gets a welcome test in the shape of 19-year-old Elijah Lorenzo Garcia, 13-0 (11) of Phoenix, Arizona.
THE VERDICT: The winner of Figueroa-Magsayo will become a key player in the featherweight ranks.