Fight has just begun for boxer Jerwin Ancajas
CAVITE, Philippines - Emerging from a tricycle is the last place you’d expect to see a boxing world champion. But for Jerwin Ancajas, little has changed since that night last September in Taguig City, when he wrested the IBF junior bantamweight title from Puerto Rico’s McJoe Arroyo with a unanimous decision win.
In many ways, Ancajas has come a long way since his days growing up in Panabo City, Davao del Norte. He holds a formidable 25-1-1 (16 knockouts) professional record and occupies an enviable foothold in the 115-pound division.
But in other ways the fight has just begun. He still lives in a one bedroom unit in Imus, Cavite, Philippines with his partner Ruth Balaoing and their two children, Jhinjie Kyrie, 3, and JJ Kyle, 1, (named after NBA players Kyle Korver and Kyrie Irving) on a complex shared by 3 other boxers who are handled by his manager/trainer Joven Jimenez.
On the walls of an unfurnished living room are a plaque he was awarded for the 2012 WBO Asia Pacific Fight of the Year against Mark Anthony Geraldo, a constant reminder of his lone career defeat, and a photo of himself wearing a belt signed by the new Games and Amusements Board commissioner.
For defeating Arroyo, Ancajas received 15% of the IBF minimum bid of $25,000 put forth by MP Promotions - or $3,750, an unusually low amount for a world title fight. Ancajas never thought twice about accepting it.
“I really just thought of winning. I didn’t think about the money, how much it is,” said the 25-year-old Ancajas, who will make his first title defense January 29 at Studio City Casino in Macau against number 15 ranked contender Jose Alfredo Rodriguez. “Winning is nicer than the money.”
Ancajas’ hard work was rewarded when his promoter Manny Pacquiao gifted Ancajas a 500,000 peso ($10,034 USD) bonus for the victory, which Ancajas could have used to buy his family a house. Instead he bought one for his father in Panabo City, a thank you for his days of toiling on a banana plantation to support him, his brother Jesar and sister Jean.
Jerwin used to bring his father his breakfast at the plantation. Now he delivered him a home to call his own.
“I am very happy that I am able to pay them back for all the sacrifices that they did for me while I was growing up,” said Ancajas of his father, who has been unable to work since suffering a spinal injury 3 years ago in a motorcycle accident.
For this fight against Rodriguez, Ancajas is set to make $40,000 USD (1,998,600 PHP*), by far his largest payday, in the main event of a show promoted by China’s Rejoy Group.
Ancajas plans to buy his family a home. He plans to buy one for his mother too, who has lived in General Santos City since splitting with his father when he was 3.
The backyard of the house Ancajas lives in has a few chickens, and a few cows who ran away before they could become hamburgers, Jimenez jokes.
A few feet away from the picnic table Ancajas’ 3-year-old son Kyrie practices his own boxing technique against an assistant trainer’s hands. Like his father he is right-handed, though the father fights out of a southpaw stance to put his strongest punches out front. The young boy who could be his father’s twin opts for the orthodox stance.
“Would you let them be boxers like you?”
“If they want to go into boxing then boxing it is,” Ancajas said.
Ancajas’ partner Ruth holds the same belief as Jerwin, with one added condition. “But of course their studies should come first.” Still, she admits that it hurts to see Jerwin hit and get hit.
“For me it hurts of course because if I were in his place, I would also find it painful. But I accept it because this is what he wants,” said Ruth.
Ancajas’ introduction to boxing came in second grade when he watched his older brother Jesar box as an amateur. Jesar brought his younger brother to Almendras Gym in Davao City to train with him, and later, to the gym owned in Panabo City by now-Davao del Norte 2nd District Representative Tony Boy Floirendo.
Beginning in 2003 Ancajas compiled amateur gold after amateur gold, including a gold in the 2008 Palarong Pambansa on a team which included 2012 Olympian Mark Anthony Barriga and unbeaten prospect John Vincent Moralde.
Rather than stick around to fight in international tournaments, Ancajas turned pro at age 17. An acquaintance of Jimenez first told him about Ancajas, but it wasn’t until after 6 months that he went to Davao to recruit Ancajas and offer him his managerial and training services.
Now Ancajas is in a position to make an even bigger mark and greater money in a talent-loaded 115-pound division, where pound-for-pound champion Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez of Nicaragua holds the WBC version of the championship and Japan’s Naoya Inoue holds the WBO belt.
“Chocolatito is the best boxer in the world pound for pound. That is where Jerwin will really make a name for himself. It will not just be for the money but that is where he will be known more,” said Jimenez.
For now he’s focused on Rodriguez, a 27-year-old from Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico who has won 3 straight fights since moving up to junior bantamweight. Rodriguez (32-4, 19 KOs) had previously won the interim WBA junior flyweight title but endured a stretch between 2012 and 2014 where he lost 4 out of 5 fights. The losses included fights against top fighters Alberto Rossel (unanimous decision), Kazuto Ioka (stopped in round 6) and Milan Melindo (unanimous decision), and a less forgivable six-round decision loss to the 36-28-3 fighter Valentin Leon.
“I think we can win in this fight. But of course we are not going to take things for granted. We should not take things for granted because Rodriguez is a veteran, he is really good and powerful,” said Ancajas.
Can Ancajas take the reins and become the next star to emerge from the Philippines? There’s no way to know until he faces someone like Gonzalez. But it doesn’t hurt to dream.
“In the past we all dreamed of achieving what he has but it is now very difficult to equal his popularity, his wealth,” said Ancajas. “When I became a world champion, I was really happy with it already, for me I was already able to achieve my dream of becoming a world champion. That is already enough for me. It will be a big blessing if we are given a chance to become someone like Manny Pacquiao.” – 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @RyanSongalia.