Boxer Jerwin Ancajas is more than just a 'pretty' face
MANILA, Philippines – Jerwin Ancajas walks through cracked streets of Parañaque City, past the beggar children and stray dogs which congregate along narrow walkways. Nothing about the half-kilometer trek from the Elorde Sports Complex to the $30 a night hotel both he and his opponent are staying at seems to bother him.
He and his team had paid the 7 pesos per head jeepney fare to arrive at the gym but figured they'd rather take the stroll than cross to the other side of Sucat Road to catch the ride back.
A passerby would never guess that he is the mandatory challenger to the IBF junior bantamweight championship, and was just days away from his first world title opportunity. The Filipino boxer will challenge the undefeated McJoe Arroyo of Puerto Rico this Saturday, September 3 at the Navy Gym in Taguig City. The bout is being promoted by Manny Pacquiao’s MP Promotions.
A win in the scheduled 12-round bout will almost certainly bring an end to his days of riding the jeepney to the gym, and add his name among the many others from his country who have earned the designation of world champion.
“If I win it’ll really make a big difference in my life because there will probably be prize money that will be helpful to my family,” says “Pretty Boy” Ancajas (24-1-1, 16 knockouts), a father to two boys, aged 3 and one.
From Panabo to the ring
Ancajas, 23, is used to a simple lifestyle growing up in Panabo City, Davao del Norte. The youngest of 3 children, his father worked on a banana plantation while his mother tended to the family. They were poor, he says, but he found a beacon in life when his older brother Jesar brought him along to the gym at age 9.
“I began to like boxing. It's as if I could not live without boxing even though I was still so young,” Ancajas says.
He excelled, winning two golds at the National Games, plus another gold at the 2008 Palarong Pambansa as an amateur. An international career with the national team could have been in his plans but he opted to turn pro at age 17. Four fights into his pro run, he aligned himself with Jimenez, who became his manager and trainer.
Ancajas remained unbeaten through his first 14 bouts before suffering his only defeat, a 10-round majority decision loss to Mark Anthony Geraldo.
Jimenez says their training in Cebu was disrupted by problems at the gym and argues he still won the fight; Ancajas takes it as a learning experience, and has won 11 straight since then, all by knockout.
“Ever since my loss to Mark Geraldo, I put it in my mind to give it even more because my performance was still lacking. By God’s grace the good fights came one after the other,” says Ancajas.
Ancajas’ career began to look up in 2014. He joined MP Promotions and fought on a pair of cards in Macau, including the undercard of Pacquiao’s fight against Chris Algieri in November of that year. Ancajas then became the mandatory challenger for the 115-pound title when England’s Paul Butler withdrew from their proposed elimination bout.
The year since then has tested Ancajas’ patience and character in a way few can relate.
After joining MP Promotions, Ancajas began training at the MP Gym in Davao City under Nonoy Neri, but left in February of this year. Jimenez says this decision was due to a lack of fighters to spar with when Neri left camp to assist Pacquiao’s training in General Santos City. A request for comment from Neri was not immediately returned by the time of this article's publication.
Ancajas began training once again with Jimenez at a gym in Tanay, Rizal which Jimenez describes as being 10x20 feet in size and prone to rain leaks.
The Arroyo fight, which was originally set for November of 2015 in Puerto Rico, was postponed numerous times for a variety of reasons. Sparring partners came and left as camps started and ended abruptly. Arroyo (17-0, 8 knockouts) cited a hand injury in April, and made comments to BoxingScene which suggested that he and promoter PR Best Boxing were considering vacating the title rather than come to the Philippines to fight.
After one postponement, the New Jersey-based IBF ordered a purse bid and Sampson Lewkowicz, acting on behalf of MP Promotions, submitted the lone bid for the $25,000 minimum. With the split allocating 85% for the champion and 15% for the challenger, Ancajas is entitled to just $3,750 (a figure which will be greatly reduced after deductions). Ancajas had previously made $10,000 to fight a non-title fight in Macau.
The original venue (Strike Coliseum in Bacoor, Cavite) was unavailable for the latest fight date. Jimenez says the current venue – run by the branch of the Armed Forces of the Philippines which Jimenez served 15 years with – was confirmed just 10 days ago. A sigh of relief came over many when Arroyo and his camp arrived in the Philippines this past Monday.
Through it all, Ancajas remained smiling, continuing to train even when it seemed the fight may never happen.
“I’m really working hard to get the belt from Arroyo. No matter the hardships coach Jimenez and I went through, I still give it my all,” Ancajas says.
“It really shows his character. Jerwin never complains, even if his purse money isn’t that much. He just wants to fight,” Jimenez says.
Despite the adversity, Ancajas still has much working in his favor. He will have home field advantage fighting in the Philippines and won’t have to deal with jetlag. One of the 3 judges – Gil Co – is also Filipino. The other two judges include Puerto Rican Carlos Colon (who had judged 3 of Arroyo's early fights) and Japanese Takeo Harada, with referee Gene Del Bianco.
Once the fight begins, Ancajas will have to deal with an unbeaten fighter who fought at the 2008 Olympics. A fellow southpaw, Arroyo has fought better opposition, earning a unanimous decision win over Geraldo - the only man to beat Ancajas - plus former champion Hernan Marquez. He hasn’t fought since July of 2015 when he won a technical decision over Filipino boxer Arthur Villanueva to win the vacant title.
“I think Jerwin has a chance for this fight because Jerwin is very hungry, his style was more versatile than Arroyo’s style of [throwing] 1-2 punches. Jerwin’s style is to throw many punches. Maybe Arroyo will have trouble for that,” Jimenez says.
On Wednesday afternoon, the young man from Panabo City will be proclaimed at the Philippine Senate with his promoter Pacquiao looking on. His life will change forever if he’s proclaimed at center ring this weekend. – Rappler.com
Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to The Ring magazine. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.