In the surge to crown the “New Manny Pacquiao” that did not even await the retirement of the old Manny Pacquiao, many different fighters have been lauded and discarded by the press, both western and Filipino. This rather misses the point. The reason a Mike Tyson or a Muhammad Ali or a Manny Pacquiao are so exciting isn’t that they inspire the next in line: it’s all the fighters that they inspire to try. These are the stories of the new generation of Filipino warriors and they are key to the sport. Boxing is an unfolding story, history at large, it needs journeyman, gatekeepers, title challengers and caretaker champions every bit as much as it needs all-time great sporting giants. More, even.

The Philippines is perfectly positioned to mesh with boxing behind the inspiration provided by a fistic legend. It has a large population, around a 120 million, it has a sad and bravely fought war with poverty, an estimated fifth of that population living in its clutches; and Filipino fighters from old-time flyweight champion Pancho Villa to the modern day seem both unafraid of hard work and filled with fighting heart.

Here then, we will look at the ten Filipino fighters whose names we should know right now.

Mark Magsayo, Aged 27, Featherweight, 24-2, Tagbilaran City, Bohol

Mark Magsayo is coming off back-to-back losses and it is a testimony to the vibrance of the featherweight division and to the stiff assignments Magsayo has undertaken that he has retained relevancy in a sport that is crueller now than ever before to the recently defeated.

Out-scrapped by cunning Rey Vargas in July of last year, Magsayo kept it close with a sneaky right-handed knockdown that sent the fight to a split decision on the official cards (115-112 Vargas on mine). He was never out of the contest although his chances on the cards were bolstered in the main by a fast start. He showed an even faster start earlier this month against Brandon Figueroa but allowed his opponent’s relentlessness to push him out of the contest, although two harsh points deducted for holding in an all-action fight that continued on the inside despite Magsayo’s grabbing for a spare arm seemed harsh.

I had Magsayo winning five of the first six rounds, and claiming three of the first five against Vargas. Magsayo, it seems, has a stamina issue when his workrate is pitted against that of an elite opponent. He has the guts to remain in the fight regardless of his fatigue but he doesn’t appear to have the type of tide-turning energy that can close a fight late. This is a problem for a fighter who has never knocked out a world class opponent, though his record against more limited opposition proves his dig.

But Magsayo will always be in closely contested, exciting fights. That is a testimony to his character and fortitude. He has probably been cast adrift for the moment from the divisional elite (Mauricio Lara, Brandon Figueroa, Rey Vargas and Luis Alberto Lopez) but he probably remains the best of the rest, at least until Robeisy Ramirez meets Isaac Dogboe at the beginning of April. Expect to see him out in lesser company next time around before making a possible call to his old friends at the WBO in an effort to break up the Lara/Leigh Wood/Josh Warrington lock-up of that strap.

John Riel Casimero, Aged 34, Super Bantamweight, 32-4, Ormoc City, Leyte

Nonito Donaire is the most famous of the post-Pacquiao Filipinos, but John Riel Casimero at one point was probably second. There is no greater enemy to a fighter than inactivity, whether fisticly or financially, and having boxed only two rounds in the last two years, Casimero has arguably made a victim of himself.

With all of that said, there is no reason the final years of Casimero’s career can’t be exciting and profitable, and it should be stressed that the two confusing rounds he boxed in 2022 were not entirely his responsibility. Reintroducing himself to the 122lb division he travelled to South Korea to meet Ryo Akaho. Upon being flashed while off balance by a check hook in the second, Casimero clearly lost his temper, illustrated by the wild, winging shots he launched while chasing Ryo around the ring. Many of these landed, but more than one of them strayed into rabbit-punch territory, and upon a called break used by the referee to remonstrate with Casimero about these clumsy punches, Ryo decided he could no longer continue. What was ruled a No Contest on the night was later changed to a KO2 victory for Casimero when the Korea boxing commission realised just bow bad that look was.

All’s well that ends well but it leaves Casimero rusty, probably past his prime and without a natural home for his 122lb ambitions. His name has been continuously linked with that of Naoya Inoue’s, and that is indeed the big payday at the poundage, but if he should be matched with the winner of Inoue and Stephen Fulton, Casimero wants to be at something approaching his best, not the fighter limited by inactivity we see currently. Luis Nery’s name has also been mentioned in dispatches but it is interesting that the perception would now be that Casimero is no longer a problem that Nery doesn’t need. Casimero has closed the gap on himself, for better or worse.

A schooled veteran with good power and quick feet, Casimero should remain a handful for anyone almost regardless, but speaking as a fan, I would like to see him out before the end of May and against a decent level of opposition. American Daniel Roman and the other 122lb Inoue brother, Takuma, both make all the sense in the world.

Marlon Tapales, Aged 30, Super Bantamweight, 36-3, Tubod, Lanao del Norte

Another natural fight for Casimero would be against the premier Filipino Super Bantamweight, Marlon Tapales, from the southern island province of Tubod. A damaging loss to Ryosuke Iwasa in 2019 was tempered by an eye injury caused by a clash of heads that clearly made it difficult for him, and when he came blasting back in 2021 with a two-round stoppage of Hiroaki Teshigawara he was right back in contention.

The three-piece that ended that fight was a thing of beauty and underlines just exactly how Tapales has improved this decade. He’s finding the third punch where before there was only two and a coolness under fire has helped him develop a real accuracy on the attack. This makes him a dangerous finisher – nobody has carried him further than two since that loss to Iwasa.

Truthfully though, Tapales remains something of an unknown quantity at thirty years of age. That is all about to change though as he is set to meet the undefeated Murodjon Akhmadaliev on April 8th in San Antonio. A shot at a strap on American soil has been a carefully cultivated strategy for Tapales, who has fought seven of his last eight in Carson, Los Angeles, Brooklyn and elsewhere in order to carve himself out a share of what remains boxing’s biggest pie. Fight fans should circle the date as these two sit bang in the middle of the 122lb rankings, exactly the type of fight that has delivered for fans in the rich first quarter of 2023.

Akhmadaliev will likely start as a favourite, not least because the victory that unlocked the top half of the world rankings to him was over the man who defeated Tapales in 2019, Ryosuke Iwasa. That fifth- round stoppage was controversial though and triangular analysis is among the least reliable in boxing – come April, we will know where Tapales sits, one way or the other.

Reymart Gaballo, Aged 26, Bantamweight, 25-1, Polomolok, Cotabato del Su

Reymart Gaballo got lucky against Emmanuel Rodriguez in December of 2021, handed a split decision victory in what looked like a clear loss (116-112 Rodriguez for me). I have never seen a card in favour of Gaballo for that fight other than that of judges John McKaie and Don Trella. It is perhaps a form of justice then that Gaballo finds himself hanging onto the top ten by the skin on his fingertips while Rodriguez sits atop the division.

It is perhaps the greatest oddity of this sport that we reward such decisions as Gaballo was rewarded, with a match against his legendary countryman Nonito Donaire. In his fight with Rodriguez, Gaballo’s greatest successes were with a sort of weaving serpentine attack he adopted in the third quarter of the fight – so too did he find his best moments against Donaire with this approach. On the downside it placed Gaballo in a straight shootout with a thirty-nine-year-old fighter he perhaps should have looked to outlast – Donaire dropped him a gorgeous left hook to the body in the fourth and although Gaballo did beat the count, he immediately dipped back to the canvas grimacing in pain.

Gaballo’s next fight is huge – he needs a clean win if he is to find himself back in the mix at the top of the division and a loss consigns him to the oblivion of gatekeeper status. The name he is most often linked with is former Jason Maloney victim Nawaphon Kaikanha, the man with perhaps the most padded record in all of boxing. Gaballo would be favoured to win such a fight.

Vincent Astrolabio, Aged 25, Bantamweight, 18-3, General Santos City, Cotabato del Sur

Vincent Astrolabio, after a difficult 2017 and 2018, knuckled down at bantamweight and reaped the rewards of this more disciplined approach going 6-0 between 2019 and 2023, including five knockouts.

The man he couldn’t knock out was Guillermo Rigondeaux. He met the veteran out in Dubai in early 2022 and turned in a performance of real quality to take a deserved decision. Rigondeaux did his thing, made Astrolabio miss, sometimes by a lot, but the Filipino also turned in a strategic masterpiece. Patient, he also bought pressure. Careful never to throw one punch when two were there to be had, he never got greedy. His mix of touch and power was perfect. Rigondeaux kept waiting as though he expected the same old openings to present themselves, but when they did – and they did – he often found himself out of position or landing a single shot. In the eighth, Astrolabio flashed Rigondeaux with a right-handed punch, but only after repeatedly rattling him with right hands to the head throughout that round. The penny finally seemed to drop for Rigondeaux who won the ninth and tenth on my card but by then it was too late – all three judges had the fight for Astrolabio by virtue of the knockdown (I saw it slightly wider).

Astrolabio was a promising prospect before this fight and a highly ranked contender after it. It is a very exciting time in his career. Is he the master on timing that he seemed to be against the ageing Rigondeaux? Or were we a little blinded by seeing a fighter as neat as Rigondeaux out-thought unexpectedly and over-credited Astrolabio? Astrolabio knocked out Nikolai Potapov as expected in Las Vegas last year, but with Jason Maloney and Emmanuel Rodriguez the names most often being linked to his currently, we are set to find out who Vincent Astrolabio really is in 2023.