Aspiring boxer hopes to carry Canadian and Philippine flags
By Ted Alcuitas
A 26-year – old Filipino-Canadian boxer from London, Ontario had a bad experience with Team Paquiao while running with his idol in Hollywood prior to his fight tomorrow against WBO welterweight titleholder Jessie Vargas.
Junior featherweight boxer Marc Pagcaliwangan,known as ‘Gwapo’ (handsome) by his fans, took the chance to be with his idol to meet his boxing idols – Manny Pacquiao and Bonito Donair Jr. who was training in Las Vegas.
But although he had high praises for Pacquaio who he said took time to talk with him while on a training run, he was put off by the people surrounding him and vowed not to run with them ‘ever again’.
In an interview with Rappler, ‘Gwapo’ said he was hoping to find inspiration from the two most successful Filipino boxers and also looking to understand the Filipino culture which seems distant to him, being born in Canada.
Both Pacquiao and Donaire are in the finishing stages of training for their fights which take place tomorrow, November 5 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. The now-Senator Pacquiao, coming out of a brief “retirement” to face WBO welterweight titleholder Jessie Vargas, will headline, while Donaire, a 4-division champion, will make a mandatory defense of his WBO junior featherweight title against unbeaten Mexican-American Diego Magdaleno.
Through Michael Farenas, a former world title challenger who is also signed with Gillies and Halkias, Pagcaliwangan was able to get into Pacquiao’s circle for two days, last Monday and Tuesday.
“It was cool, like being a kid from a small city in Canada idolizing Manny, then the next thing you know you’re in his kitchen,” Pagcaliwangan told Rappler.
According to Rappler, Pagcaliwangan never got the chance to train with Pacquiao in the gym but went along for morning runs. At the first session at Griffith Park, Pagcaliwangan earned the opportunity to speak with the 8-division champion the hard way.
“I actually got to talk to Manny during our run because our first day running, we ran at Griffith Park, so it’s uphill and I was the only one that survived, the only one that lasted to the top of the mountain and I guess Manny was really impressed because he sprints all the way to the top up the hill and everybody started falling back,” remembers Pagcaliwangan.
“From then on he was talking to me, asking me how many fights do I have, where am I from, what weight do I fight in, what’s my record. It was like little small talk from then on because I was the only one there.”
But his second day run with Team Pacquiao around was ‘dramatically different’ , he said.
“It was just so crowded, it was really annoying. I rolled both my ankles because people kept pushing me and these are like Team Pacquiao people, then random people are running with us with selfie sticks staying up the whole time recording the whole run, selfie sticks coming up to my face while we’re running, it was just such a nightmare. I don’t think I ever want to run with Team Pacquiao ever again,” said Pagcaliwangan.
He didn’t have fond memories of his time in the dense circle that orbits Pacquiao off the track, either.
“Team Pacquiao, I’m a little skeptical about them, I know they don’t like me, I love Manny, I support Manny but Team Pacquiao, I don’t think I want to be involved with them,” said Pagcaliwangan. “They gave me weird vibes because I’m Filipino-Canadian, because I don’t speak good Tagalog and I don’t speak Visaya.”
He says Nonito was more ‘welcoming’ when he spent a couple of days with him in training in Las Vegas.
“He’s such a great guy. After our first training session together he invited me and my friend over to his house for dinner. We just hung out, talked and he’s a very wise man. He really gave me really good advice and we talked about motivations,” said Pagcaliwangan.
“Nonito showed me plenty of things with boxing, like how to place my feet, how to keep my distance, keep my balance, how to keep my power while throwing combinations.”
Pagcaliwangan, the son of a Filipina nurse named Francisca from Zamboanga City and Henry, a project manager at a medical technology manufacturer from Lipa City, Batangas, was influenced much by both boxers in his formative years. He remembers in 2005 as a 14-year-old when his dad took him to a Filipino bar in Canada to watch Pacquiao’s first fight with Erik Morales and being inspired by the Filipino’s gutsy stand in defeat. Kids at school called him Pacquiao, and to this day the Filipina ladies at church call his mother Mommy Dionisia, the name of Pacquiao’s mother.
“Later through my amateur career, I started watching Nonito and I fell in love with his left hook. Ever since then I’ve been practicing my left hook over and over again, that’s why I like my left hook, it’s one of my strongest punches,” said Pagcaliwangan, whose pro record sits at 9-0-1 (7 knockouts).
Pagcaliwangan is a defiant personality. He’s a Filipino, and doesn’t care what his passport says, or that he’s never been to the “motherland.” At age 15, he asserted his independence by taking a job at a Taco Bell/KFC despite his parents’ wishes that he focused on his studies. After graduating high school, his parents expected him to enroll in college; instead he became a prizefighter.
Doing things my way
“I did things my way. Filipinos don’t like that,” Pagcaliwangan says.
Pagcaliwangan admits he had grappled with balancing the expectations of growing up in a Filipino household and the influences of his Toronto suburb. Whereas Filipino-Americans have several role models to point to from a similar background, there are fewer prominent Filipinos in Canada despite a large population.
“If you’re born in Canada, it’s just like lots of pressure because Filipinos want you to be like how they grew up in the Philippines. If you’re born in Canada, they expect you to be like them and if you’re not, then you’re not Filipino. I’ve experienced that, even when I try to speak Tagalog with some Filipinos, they’ll just laugh at me and say I’m not Filipino.”
Getting leave from his day job detailing cars at Mercedes Benz London wasn’t difficult; the president of the company sponsored his trip last year to Oxnard, California to train with Robert Garcia and were also making this sojourn possible.
So far Pagcaliwangan’s career gamble has paid off, even if he has to keep a full-time job to pay the bills. After his first two fights in 2012, a Montreal promoter threw him in with a 6-0 boxer named Laszlo Fekete. Pagcaliwangan blitzed him in the first round. Next was another undefeated fighter, Jose Adan Fernandez, who decided after 3 minutes that the first round would be his last. So far Pagcaliwangan’s lone blemish was a split-draw with Mexican Octavio Hernandez, which he followed up with 3 straight wins.
Pagcaliwangan hasn’t fought since April of 2015, first because of an injured right knuckle, and second because he was looking for new management after his deal with his first manager elapsed. He’s confident that he’ll return to the ring this year with a clearly defined plan towards establishing himself as a title contender. He’s hopeful that a deal with a promoter will be worked out soon, and hopeful that he’ll end up training in Oxnard with Garcia, who had once trained Fil-Am boxers Donaire and Brian Viloria.
Most of all, he’s confident that he’ll represent his heritage the way he feels most comfortable.
“I don’t plan to be the next Manny Pacquiao or the next Nonito Donaire. I plan to be the first Marc “Gwapo,” he says. “I grew up as a Filipino-Canadian, I didn’t grow up in the Philippines. [Fil-Canadians] are proud that there’s someone like them that is representing Filipinos and Canadians. I hope that when I do win a world title, I’ll be carrying both the Philippines and the Canadian flags with pride,” Pagcaliwangan told Rappler.