Jerwin Ancajas dares to be a great champion

Ryan Songalia
Jerwin Ancajas dares to be a great champion
Jerwin Ancajas has been champion for a year, but remains unspoiled by the trappings of success as he heads into his title defense against Jamie Conlan

CAVITE, Philippines – On a barely paved road about a 3-hour drive outside of Metro Manila, after a labyrinth of side streets and short cuts through muddy farms, a small concrete block building rests off to the side. It looks more like an above-ground bomb shelter than a home. Just behind it, on a clearing with tiny chickens crowing about and puppies barely 6 months old running amok, is a boxing ring, with 4 fiber ropes enclosing it, and a blue MP Promotions tarp covering the cement blocks on the ring floor which were probably left over from building the house.

There are no signs proclaiming it Home of the Champ, namely IBF junior bantamweight champion Jerwin Ancajas, but residents of Barangay Ramirez in Magallanes, Cavite can tell there’s something special about their new neighbors.

Ancajas purchased the lot, which he has dubbed Survival Camp, for P250,000 after his last title defense in Brisbane, Australia, when the shy fighter from Panabo City walked out in front of more than 50,000 fans in the Suncorp Stadium and put a beating on Japan’s Teiru Kinoshita. 

Ancajas hopes to convert it to a full-scale training facility to house sparring partners and fighters from abroad who want to train in seclusion, but for now it’s a bare-bones establishment, with the speed bag imaginary, jokes Ancajas’ trainer/manager Joven Jimenez, and amenities which include a pit grill – which means that every meal is a barbecue – and an outhouse opposite it.  

“It’s Birmingham Palace,” jokes Jimenez, evoking the image of royal palaces in Alabama. Some of the sparring partners from the Cairosy stable of Sindangan, Zamboanga del Norte sleep in the small structure alongside Ancajas, his two small children and his wife. Jimenez, other sparring partners, and members of the team sleep inside the ring, shielded from the elements by an aluminum roof about 20 feet above the ring.  

It may not be the Bellevue Stratford where Balboa trained at in Rocky 3, but it beats some of the places where they’d trained before, Jimenez says. Ancajas boxes in that space, rain or shine, fighting against rains that recognize no 3-minute round clock. If Marvin Hagler went to Prison for his training camps, Ancajas is Stranded in the Wilderness, waking each morning at 6:30 to run the hills of Tagaytay, 500 meters above sea level, eating meals of native chicken, handpicked from among the crop that interrupts each conversation with its crowing, and falling asleep to the deafening buzz of crickets. 

“I can really focus here since it’s quiet and the place is not crowded,” says Ancajas in Filipino. “Especially at night when people around here fall asleep around 8 pm.”  

If a year of being champion has introduced an element of sosyal in the champion, it isn’t evident in the way he trains for his third title defense, set for November 18 in Belfast, Ireland against unbeaten brawler Jamie Conlan. 

“He’s hungrier now. Our situation here, it’s still kind of difficult. We’re still not wealthy. Our gym is not up to shape or completed. His house, the same,” Jimenez says. “That’s what gives Jerwin that hunger because he wants to complete his house with his family.”

Ancajas (27-1-1, 18 knockouts), who lives in Kawit, Cavite when he’s not in training, has been a survivor long before he went to camp. He’s traveled abroad for both of his previous defenses, and won both fights inside the distance. This fight will be different in that Conlan, a fan friendly brawler, will have the benefit of thousands of his countrymen cheering him on when they fight at The SSE Arena, which Conlan likened to a “hostile, volatile cauldron.” 

“For me, I’m just composing myself to focus on the fight and not care about the fans. When I get to the ring, I just want to showcase what I can do,” says Ancajas. 

Jimenez says they’re preparing for more than just the fans to be against them. 

“Jerwin is very brave, no matter where the fight is, what anyone is shouting, our team is ready for that,” says Jimenez. “Even the referee, he cannot help. We are preparing for that because the referee will help, the judges will help, the weigh-in scale will help, but we’re prepared for that.” 

The 31-year-old Conlan, unbeaten at 19-0 (11 KOs), is never in a dull fight, overcoming knockdowns and cuts to keep his record clean. He’s never in a bad fight, and Ancajas views him as “the most difficult opponent I’ve faced” yet. Ancajas is looking at this fight as an opportunity to show he can be a crowd-pleasing fighter, and to build on his reputation as the kind of boxer that TV audiences will want to tune in to. 

“He’s got style and is a good brawler. He’s very difficult to fight because he’s strong, so it’s gonna be a good fight,” says Ancajas. “I want to know if I can hang with him and brawl toe-to-toe. We also want to impress the crowd and have good results from the fight.” 

Should he win, the plan is, Jimenez says, to work with MP Promotions matchmaker Sean Gibbons to arrange a unification fight with WBO champion Naoya Inoue, one of the sport’s fastest rising stars, in the United States. Inoue, a native of Japan, made his US debut in September on the “SuperFly” card that highlighted the red-hot 115-pound division on HBO.

“Sean is working on getting us a fight with Inoue because Inoue is always calling out Jerwin. We want to do that in US. We’re working, if Jerwin does good in this fight, that’s what our plan is,” says Jimenez.

And until Ancajas fights Inoue, or the WBC champ Srisaket Sor Rungvisai who twice vanquished Roman Gonzalez, he won’t be comfortable calling himself the best of the junior bantamweight division.

“It’s hard to say that I’m the one. It’s like I said, I haven’t faced the others. If I face them and I prove to them that I’m also one of the best, then there,” says Ancajas.

“For me, I also want to fight them so I can know whether I’m ready for their styles.”

The goal, Ancajas says, is to eventually be mentioned in the same breath as other great champions from the Philippines, like Manny Pacquiao, Flash Elorde, and Pancho Villa. That’ll take some time, but he hopes that unifying titles and conquering other weight classes will earn him that distinction.

“I told myself I want to be included in that category. It’s hard for me to say because it’s the people who say that a boxer is good. For me, I told myself to be better and train better so I can be like those fighters,” says Ancajas.

In boxing, as in life, it’s survival of the fittest. After surviving camp, Ancajas can survive just about anything. –

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