Jerwin Ancajas makes his U.S. debut, Saturday night, on ESPN
It hadn’t even been 24 hours since he landed on U.S. soil for the first time, last Friday morning, and Jerwin “Pretty Boy” Ancajas already found himself in the Wild Card Boxing Club, in Hollywood, California, being given a personal tour by none other than its owner and operator Freddie Roach.
“At last. My dream. Wild Card.”
Ancajas, Cavite City, Philippines, interlocked his hands behind his back as he approached Wild Card’s front door. With Roach whispering in his ear and pointing things out on the walls, Jerwin wasn’t asking any questions, just soaking it all in and refraining from touching anything, like a kid in a museum. In one moment, something high on the wall caught his attention, in the back portion of the gym, and he just stood there with his eyes up and his mouth slouched, as reality seemed to strike him. Ancajas, like all Filipino boxing hopefuls and fans, had always imagined what it was like to be in the house that cultivated Manny Pacquiao. There’s a corner of the gym where two big posters of the “Pac-Man” hang and, of course, more pictures were taken there, this time with Ancajas holding his IBF super flyweight belt. Then Top Rank CEO Bob Arum showed up and Ancajas couldn’t help but smile with his new promoter – the man who helped promote Pacquiao into an entity who had Filipinos wonder what it was like to be in the Hollywood gym that curated this once-in-a-lifetime talent.
After all the hoopla upstairs, Ancajas took interviews in the private sector of the gym, downstairs, and had his first photo shoot with Mikey Williams of Top Rank. Ancajas, 26, wanted to speak English but, in Tagalog, his thoughts were more detailed. There was a small media scrum where the Filipino consulate welcomed Ancajas to the United States and, afterward, Jerwin spoke with UCNLive.com.
“In the Philippines, this gym is so famous,” Ancajas said about his tour. “I was happy to be upstairs. I was amazed. I can’t explain how I’m finally here at Wild Card. I was happy to meet Sir Bob and that Coach Freddie gave me a tour.”
Ancajas, 28-1-1 (19), is currently riding a wave of momentum in the ring that got him an eventual promotional contract with Top Rank (Ancajas was also signed by MP Promotions, Pacquiao’s company, in early 2017). His body shot knockout of Teiru Kinoshita in Brisbane, Australia, caught Arum’s eye, last summer, which was broadcast live on ESPN in the United States. Four months later, after walloping Jamie Conlan within six in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Ancajas signed with Top Rank at the tail end of 2017.
“For me, sir, I’m always thinking to finish the round,” Ancajas said about his recent knockouts attributing to this attention. “If I have a knockout, it’s a blessing for me. A bonus.”
Signing super flyweights isn’t something promoters do often but, on the heels of a mini-revolution, spearheaded by Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez in the U.S., and on HBO, landing Ancajas is a big deal for more reasons than one. Yet with plenty of known 115-pounders these days – and a “SuperFly” sequel happening on HBO, on February 24 – Arum made it clear that Ancajas will be packaged differently and not subject to a series rooted in discovering who the best 115-pounder in the world is.
“No,” Arum boldly told reporters, when asked if Ancajas could be seen on a card like SuperFly. “When you do a series like that, I’m not saying it’s bad television but, in my opinion, it’s not what I want to do with Jerwin. I wan’t to build Jerwin up on ESPN and then into major fights. I want to first expose him and I want to see what I’ve got. I’m not anxious to go pick off from the last super series or join their flyweight series. At this point, there will be plenty of time to fight those guys later on. I had him, sort of, for the fight in Brisbane on Manny’s card but that was really (matchmaker and manager) Sean (Gibbons) talking to my co-promoter (Dean) Lonergan there and now it’s my opportunity to see him and figure out how I’m going to build him. It’s easy to put guys into a fight here, a fight there, and think you’re doing your job. If you’re a real promoter, and trying to do the best you can, you gotta take your time and build the fighter, so that you know that he’s going in the right direction and can make the most possible money.”
When asked a proper follow-up question by the Los Angeles Times’ Lance Pugmire, Arum replied, “Of course it can be perceived as ducking but I tell the perceivers to go screw yourself – what do I care what you think? Anything can be perceived as ducking but I have a job to do and my job to do isn’t to put a fighter in with another fighter, just because people say, ‘Well, let’s see how it would come out.’ What I do, for example, they ask me, would I do a Terence Crawford-Errol Spence (Jr.) fight. And the answer is, of course! But it’s gotta be a fight where Spence makes a lot money and Crawford makes a lot of money. If that can happen, that’s fine. Why would you put Spence and Crawford against each other on a fight, either on Showtime or ESPN, where their purses are not the same they could make, if they were built up?”
If you ask Ancajas who he wants to fight now, much like how Pacquiao would explain, he’ll tell you that it depends on his manager and promoter. In one instance, after Ancajas said those exact words, Arum replied from the background, “Smart fighter!”
Promoters speak isn’t something boxing fans want to hear from fighters but, with a clear plan in place, Ancajas was on board with going through the process. A sign of loyalty, one could say, but after speaking with Ancajas’ team, the fidelity he has is far deeper than that.
Joven Jimenez first discovered Ancajas in 2010, a year after he founded Joven Sports, a small promotional company in the Philippines, that had up to around 20 fighters at the time. Jimenez is actually the one who nicknamed Ancajas “Pretty Boy,” saying it was because he looked so young and that, after his fights, he looked the same way stepping out of the ropes, as he did coming in. Much like Ancajas, Jimenez couldn’t help but enjoy his first visit to the Wild Card, smiling for every photo, and, later on, coming to the realization of how far they’ve come, as Ancajas modeled himself in lathered grease for the exclusive photo shoot.
“Very, very, very happy, sir,” Jimenez said, with the biggest smile. “It’s like a dream but now a reality. We’re here. It’s great and I can’t say that we knew it would happen and we’re here.”
Jimenez recalled a time, back in 2010, when he was telling Ancajas that he may have to find another promoter. After his stable was ransacked by cash offers and promising contracts from other promoters and managers, Jimenez was left with just Ancajas and a bleak outlook for his company. According to Jimenez, Ancajas was offered money and contracts as well but turned them all down. Even when Jimenez was telling Ancajas to find another promoter and get out of this dire situation, Ancajas refused and stayed through thick and thin.
“No, I did not ask,” Jimenez said if he knew why Ancajas chose to stay with him. “He has the character. He has the patience. He has the loyalty. He listens, never complains, never asks for money. He has patience, sir.”
If you ask manager Sean Gibbons about Jimenez, especially on this day, he’d first point to his shirt that had a photo of the grinning Filipino promoter and then proclaim him as being one the nicest guys in the world. Evidently being a nice guy isn’t exactly a great trait to have in the cruel world of the boxing business but, today, you will see a Joven Sports logo on Ancajas’ trunks, along with Top Rank and MP Promotions, proving that not everything is wrong in this conniving sport.
Signifying his humble attitude, you don’t have to look hard on the internet to see the ring Ancajas built right in the middle of what looks like a jungle.
“After his fight in Macau (China), I told him we will buy land,” Jimenez said about the property in Imus City. “So my share and his share, I told him we will start buying this land. We built his house, then I built a gym. We didn’t have a gym before – we trained everywhere – in the road, under the mango tree, whatever place we could train.”
This Saturday night on ESPN (10:15 p.m. ET/ 7:15 p.m. PT), Ancajas looks to keep his momentum going in the opening bout of a Top Rank card held at the American Bank Center, in Corpus Christi, Texas. Facing Mexico’s Israel Gonzalez, 21-1 (8) – the IBF’s No. 9-ranked contender – it’ll be Ancajas’ fourth fight in under 13 months and his fourth attempt at defending the IBF super flyweight title.
“Mister Israel Gonzalez, like me before, is a challenger,” Ancajas said about his opponent. “He’s hungry to win that championship and I’ve worked hard. Every fight, every title defense, I give my all best to my opponent to give a good fight.”
Standing 5-foot-6, Ancajas’ height and size would be a surprise to anyone seeing him in person for the first time. That size, of course, is only big for being a 115-pounder and serves as a great advantage. “My weight is not a issue. I’m losing weight so easy,” Ancajas proclaimed and when asked what the ceiling may be for him, in terms of weight, he replied, “Maybe, when I’m older, 140 or 147. My walking (around) weight today is 140.”
With Pacquiao going all the way up to 154 pounds in an illustrious career that started at 106 pounds, Ancajas – whether he likes it or not – will often be compared to a concrete legend. While expectations like that should always be tempered, Top Rank knows the potential it has. It’s why it will have Ancajas’ fight this Saturday night televised live in the Philippines, on Sunday morning, (TV5, ESPN; 10:00 AM), which is the first time that’s ever happened for a Filipino fighter not named Manny Pacquiao.
“There’s only one Manny,” Ancajas said, deflecting comparisons, like all Filipino hopefuls do. With Ancajas, it’s not as far-fetched, when you just look at the similar stances of the southpaws and the action their styles help create. He may even admit to feeling some pressure, or even embarrassment, when being labeled as the next Pacquiao but what else could you expect from such a shy kid? Being the next Manny Pacquiao is most certainly not on his mind but, as Ancajas gets thrown into the promoting machine, stateside, there is plenty of reason to believe that many think that he could indeed be the second coming.