From left to right, businessman Anson Tiu Co, boxers Michael Farenas, Gerry Penalosa Jr., and Richard Pumicipic, and MAG Pacman Promotions co-founder Gerry Penalosa.
MANILA, Philippines – The cause of providing purses to professional boxers that are commensurate with the extraordinary risk that they take each time that they step into the ring is one that is dear to Gerry Penalosa.
After all, the former two division world champion fought his first amateur fight for the purse of one kilogram of rice.
Now as one third of the MAG Pacman Promotions, teaming up with former eight division world champion Manny Pacquiao and enterprising businessman Anson Tiu Co, he’ll get his chance to help change the pay scale and other issues affecting Philippine boxing for better.
The company says that the fighters competing on their maiden show this Friday at the Solaire Resort and Casino in Paranaque City, Philippines will be paid purses 50 percent above the standard amount suggested by the Games and Amusement Board, which oversees boxing in the Philippines.
If the GAB suggests a purse of 4000 pesos (about $100) for a four-round fight, MAG will be paying 6000 pesos for the same duration.
“We want to give life to the boxers,” said Penalosa, a former junior bantamweight and bantamweight champion. “I want them to fight for their worth because they’re risking their lives. The fighters deserve more for what they put themselves through. That’s why we want to give them bonuses.”
The show will be headlined by the 12-round junior lightweight bout between former title challenger Michael Farenas (36-4-4, 28 knockouts), of Sorsogon, Philippines, and Jesus Rios (26-4-1, 20 KOs), of Los Mochis, Mexico.
The co-featured bouts will feature a pair of junior featherweight bouts, including Dodie Boy Penalosa Jr (11-0, 11 KOs), of Cebu City, Philippines, against Alem Robles (6-3-2, 2 KOs), of Los Mochis, plus Richard Pumicpic (13-5-2, 4 KOs) against Luis Lugo (15-4-2, 11 KOs).
All three partners have promoted boxing independently. Pacquiao, who remains one of the sport’s biggest draws as a fighter, had led Rodel Mayol to the WBC junior flyweight title under the MP Promotions banner.
Penalosa has guided Farenas to competitive showings against world champions Takashi Uchiyama and Yuriorkis Gamboa, while helping his brother and fellow former two-time world champion Dodie Boy Penalosa Sr. mold his sons Dave Penalosa and Dodie Boy Penalosa Jr. into undefeated prospects.
Tiu Co, who became acquainted with Pacquiao when he set up training camps at his hotel/resort in Baguio City beginning with the Miguel Cotto fight and ending with the Timothy Bradley bout, has handled a few boxers, including the streaking Pumicpic.
“Like any other promotional company, I believe our main objective is to look for the next Manny Pacquiao,” said Tiu Co, a Manila native who was educated in the United States at UCLA. “We want to keep the Philippines on the world stage as much as possible.”
Tiu Co added that he hopes to make domestic matchups against fighters from rival stables and promotions to heat up competition among local boxers.
The challenges that face a new promotional outfit are numerous, even for ones that involve Manny Pacquiao, whohasn’t issued any statements about the newly formed company or the upcoming event as most of the domestic media attention has focused on his ongoing tax issues with the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) in the Philippines and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the States.
Boxing promoters rely on television networks to shoulder a significant portion of the financial burdens for an event. The only network in the Philippines that has so far made a significant commitment to boxing has been ABS-CBN, which has partnered with Cebu-based company ALA Promotions to create the successful Pinoy Pride series.
Friday’s show will be taped for broadcast in January on a network to be announced later.
A lingering issue is also the weak market for boxing ticket sales in Metro Manila. The double world title fight event featuring defenses by Donnie Nietes and Merlito Sabillo drew a weak crowd to the Araneta Coliseum earlier this month. This is at least partially due to the culture of free boxing events that exists in Manila.
In October, MP Promotions hosted a free event featuring a title defense by IBF junior flyweight titleholder Johnriel Casimero. The carefully cultivated market of Cebu has been able to sustain a few significant boxing events, but Manila remains a work in progress.
“[Former world title challengers Rey] Bautista and [AJ] Banal have names in Cebu, but unfortunately I don’t know why it doesn’t carry on to the Manila crowd,” said Tiu Co. “I think that’s something we can all look into and study well and see what’s wrong with that formula.”
Tickets are no longer on sale for Friday’s show, with the majority of the 1,500 seats at the high-end casino to be filled by “invite-only” guests, said Tiu Co.
“It’ll take time to fill up a venue with boxing because, aside from Pacquiao, there’s no other boxers that can fill up a whole stadium,” said Tiu Co. “We just have to live with that for some time until we can come up with a boxer worthy enough to follow in Pacquiao’s footsteps.”
“Even Manny Pacquiao did not occupy all the seats,” said Penalosa regarding his business partner’s early title defenses before coming to America. “I think one of the reasons is that it takes time going to the venue when you’re here in Manila in Manila. Besides, there are lots of sports events here.”
Pacquiao, who is coming off a dominant victory over former lightweight titleholder Brandon Rios in Macau last month, wasn’t present at the company’s kick-off press conference last week, with Penalosa explaining that the Pacman had fallen ill following his visit to the Typhoon Yolanda-stricken city of Tacloban.
Penalosa said that he had spoken with his close confidante about the status of MP Promotions, explaining that Pacquiao will retain MP Promotions for his international events, while promoting local events under the MAG Pacman banner.
MAG isn’t the first boxing promotion to come around featuring big name partners promising big changes. No less than Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran and Roy Jones Jr. have come and gone in the sport’s business side, leaving without making any lasting impact as promoters.
If MAG is to make an impact, it will have to endure the same growing pains that have encouraged many others to throw in the towel.
“My main reason why I’m here in MAG is I want to give title fights for the boxers,” said Penalosa. “I want to have a champion, even if he’s not the next Manny Pacquiao. Our plan is that we won’t need to send our boxers abroad just to have exposure. If you can afford to do it here, we’re hoping we can give a break to the boxers.
“There’s no reason why not with Manny’s power and influence, with Anson’s connections and business ideas. We’re on our way.”
Photos / Alvin S. Go
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to The Ring magazine and GMA News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.