Did Sonsona Try Too Hard to be Pacquiao?

It made perfect sense. A young warrior emerges from a small town, beating everyone who stepped on his path. He was there to take the place of the aging warrior who albeit long-of-tooth, was still the finest pugilist in the whole planet.

The people have come to accept that the young warrior shall inherit the throne after the old warrior’s reign ends. However, it seemed that the young warrior thought glory would just fall on his lap because it was his destiny. Before he knew it, his reign was over before it even began. 

Marvin Sonsona was the next Manny Pacquiao. Both are from General Santos City, both are southpaws, almost the same height, both are exciting fighters, and both looked even similar in stature when they were starting out. They even had the same poorly dyed hair. Sonsona was supposed to the next big thing in Philippine boxing. This used to be Boom-Boom Bautista’s slot before he lost to Daniel Ponce de Leon, then it was passed to Bernabe Concepcion, but Sonsona stole Concepcion’s thunder. Filipinos loved the sight of another lanky southpaw from GenSan. It was familiar to them so they bought the idea.

Sonsona did not disappoint. He won fight after fight, thrilling the audience and giving them a glimmer of hope. Whispers of “he is the next Manny Pacquiao” started swirling around. Everyone was singing praises about Sonsona. When it was time for him to take a shot at his first title, he delivered. He won on foreign soil, captivating the locals and wresting the title from a battle-tested champion,  just like Pacquiao. The only difference was Sonsona did it at 115 while Pacquiao did it at 112.

The uncanny happened as Sonsona weighed more than what was allowed for his first defense of his title. Filipinos boxing fans quickly remembered that this also happened to Pacquiao albeit in his third defense. It seemed like their bodies were growing faster than what they would have wanted; the result was the same. They both lost their titles at the scales. Pacquiao lost by knockout, easily the worst loss of his career. Sonsona on the other hand managed to salvage a draw. “Hey, Pacquiao lost, but Sonsona got a draw; maybe he can be better than Pacquiao.”

Well that idea quickly died down. Like Pacquiao, Sonsona moved to the super bantamweight division immediately after losing his title. Then disaster struck. Sonsona ran into a Puerto Rican brick wall and lost by knockout. “What went wrong, ” people asked. It seemed that Sonsona and his people fell victims to their own hype.

 So what really went wrong here? First, Sonsona was still raw when he was given his first title shot. He had 13 fights before he challenged Jose Lopez for the WBO super flyweight title. Pacquiao on the other hand already had 24 fights under his belt before he fought Chatchai Sasakul for the WBC flyweight title. But even though he was still raw, Sonsona’s natural talent won him the title; it wasn’t the cleanest of victories, certainly not as dramatic as Pacquiao’s knockout of Sasakul, but it was a great win over a wily veteran. Other than the quantity, the quality of Pacquiao’s opposition was far greater than Sonsona’s.     

After dropping his title at the weigh in, Sonsona decided to follow Pacquiao’s footsteps and fight at 122. Pacquiao introduced himself to the world in this weight class and it was his success here that enabled him to get his dream match against Marco Antonio Barrera. However, when Pacquiao went up to the super bantamweight division, he fought Reynante Jamili first. Jamili, a journeyman at best, was then coming off a recent loss to Erik Morales. Pacquiao knocked out Jamili in two rounds then went on to fight five more times to acclimate himself to the division.

Sonsona, on the other hand, went straight to challenging for a title. Big mistake. Wilfredo Vasquez, Jr., his opponent for the vacant title, has never fought below the super bantamweight division. In fact, he debuted at featherweight and even fought once in the lightweight division. Sonsona did not seem bothered as he predicted that he will knockout the Puerto Rican. Perhaps still a bit emotional over Pacquiao’s victory against Puerto Rico’s favorite son, Miguel Cotto, Sonsona even said that the Philippines owns Puerto Rico in boxing, which got a quick rebuttal from Vasquez when he said that there have been more Puerto Rican champions in history as compared to Filipinos.

Alas, fight day came. Sonsona tried his very best, although he clearly was not ready for such a challenge. Early on, he was frustrated by the fact that he was connecting flush shots, shots that would stagger or knock down flyweights, shots that didn’t seem so discomfort Vasquez. In the end, Sonsona got caught with a wicked combination punctuated by a vicious left to the body that sent him down for good. He was now 1-1-1 in title fights.

Now Sonsona and his team should think long and hard on how to proceed. He failed in trying to be the next Pacquiao. Maybe now he can work hard to the first Marvin Sonsona.

There are clear lessons to be learned from this. The first is that even if a fighter is presented with a title fight, he des not have to take it all the time. It seems that many Filipinos bite when a championship fight is wriggled in front of them. Other opportunities will come if they work hard enough and in all honesty, it is way better to fight for a title when you are absolutely ready. Take the title fight if you know you can win, if not pass on it.

The second is rather than emulating how Pacquiao fights, they should look closely at how he trains. Pacquiao is a demon in training. He is so intense that when Freddie Roach says that they’re already done with the mitts, Pacquiao demands they have another round, then another, then another, until Roach can take no more. As Pacquiao said while watching Ciso Morales take the full count against Fernando Montiel, the time you spent training on your punches should be equal to the time you spend doing ab workouts to make sure you can take strong punches to the body.

There are lots of stories about Sonsona not really keen on spending much time for training and as they say, when there’s smoke, there is fire. Hopefully, Sonsona get his act together because talent alone will not get him far. Talent should go hand in hard with determination; the urge to the absolute best you can be.

It’s definitely not too late for Sonsona, even for Bautista, Morales, and Concepcion. They still have a lot of fight left in them; they are all still relatively young and could all be world champions someday. What they should work on is to know themselves better. Instead of trying to be volume punchers like Pacquiao, maybe some of them would end up being better fighters if they centered their training of being counterpunchers. They may be booed by a couple of casual boxing fans, who do not appreciate the beauty of the sweet science, and be branded as boring but if your physical attributes and your skillset are fit for a counterpuncher, then be one.

For us fans, maybe we can stop calling fighters as the next Manny Pacquiao. Truth be told, there will never be anyone like him. Let us let the young fighters build their own legacy and not call them failures simply because they did not measure up to Pacquiao.

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