Marc Pacaliwangan: The new Pacman?
By Paul Salgado
The ability to make hard decisions is part of life’s maturing process and the same holds true in the development of a professional fighter’s career, where fortune can change in an instant and there is no ironclad template for success. Undefeated, Filipino-Canadian prospect Marc “El Gwapo” Pacaliwangan realizes those tough choices may be the difference between destiny fulfilled, and destiny forestalled. The undefeated junior featherweight is 25 years old; young for a man of the world, but arguably middle-aged for a fighter orbiting around his talent rich weight class.
Now 9-0-1 with seven knockouts since his debut in September of ’12, Pagcaliwangan determined the legitimate pursuit of a world title necessitated the mentorship of a world class trainer.
So Pagcaliwangan dialed the number of renowned trainer of champions, Robert Garcia, a former world champion himself whose guided numerous beltholders, including Kelley Pavlik, Nonito Donaire, Evgeny Gradovich and Brandon Rios among many other notables in the sport.
For a kid based out of a frigid, hockey-obsessed Canadian town of London, Ontario, it was a bold, if necessary, move.
It also proved the right one.
Garcia invited Pagcaliwangan to fly down to his boxing academy in Riverside, California and audition his fighting skills for the seasoned trainer.
That is where more tough choices came into play. Hoping to secure new braintrust and a chance to sign with major promoter, Pagcaliwangan chose not to renew his contract with his manager of four years. For the first time since the beginning of his career Pagcaliwangan needed to rely on his own resourcefulness to make the meeting with Garcia happen.
A family friend helped to put him in touch with Ryan Finch, a successful London based businessman who runs a Mercedes dealership. Also a fan of the young fighter, Finch agreed to help Pagcaliwangan.
“Boxing had been my only income, but I had injured my hand in my last fight and I went out looking for jobs. I emailed him and he agreed to give me job,” an appreciative Pagcaliwangan reflected. “Everything changed. I moved in with my girlfriend and started paying bills. I couldn’t do that before because I couldn’t afford it.”
Finch not only provided Pagcaliwangan with employment, he agreed to sponsor the fighter’s trip to California.
In September of last year, Pagcaliwangan finally met Garcia face-to-face.
“Now I see why they call you Gwapo,” Garcia quipped when first meeting Pacaliwagan.
“He is warm-hearted,” noted Pagcaliwangan of Garcia. “He’s a supportive and comforting human being.”
Pagcaliwangan spent a week training alongside Rios and Mexican prospect Saul Rodriguez, whom Gwapo sparred, winning Garcia’s respect and a commitment to train the young fighter going forward.
“[His] gym is full of Mexicans. I got to train with Mikey Garcia, and do pad work with Robert. I hung out with the team and trained with the team. It was an all-around great experience.”
Plans are in now the works for Pagcaliwangan’s next fight; likely in California, but there have also been talks with a major promoter in the Philippines to bring the young prospect to his country of heritage in the near future.
Though still at the early stages of his career, Pagcaliwangan has a surprisingly large Filipino fan base that closely follows his career, both in Canada and abroad. Supporters from his hometown, numbering in the hundreds, have driven more than two hours to cheer him on at the Hershey Centre located in the suburbs in Toronto, and his fight results are tracked via Filipino news sites and social media by scores of fans.
“Filipinos really support me and I am grateful for it. I always have a big turnout when I fight at the Hershey Centre,” says Pagcaliwangan. “My first fight in Mississauga was a draw, but it was a candidate for fight of the year. I brought in a huge crowd that night and it was an amazing experience walking down the aisle to the ring and seeing Filipino flags all over the arena.”
The memory of that night clearly excites Pagcaliwangan. Still, he is confident the timing was right to take a chance and move his career to the next level. Boxing is an uncertain business at the best of times, and having Garcia mentor him was just the first step to becoming the next Manny Pacquiao or Donaire. Acquiring seasoned representation and a world class promoter are the other critical parts to that equation.
“Right now I am not managed by anyone. I know it was a risk to make the changes, and it would mean I wouldn’t be fighting for awhile. I know there is risk, but there are good things as well. I know I have skills and I am entertaining. And after my first fight, with Robert Garcia in my corner, I know I will perform and turn heads and someone will want to sign me. I am just staying patient right now and waiting for my opportunity.”