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List of Articles by Joaquin Henson

Wrap-up of Fresno event: When history was made

By Joaquin Henson
03 Jun 2018

Fresno, the fifth largest city in California, was the unlikely setting for the making of Philippine history with a Filipino population of less than two percent but the heavy turnout of Filipinos from neighboring towns was not unexpected as the first major world title fight between two Filipinos in 93 years was held at the Save Mart Center last weekend.

The presence of Filipinos in the crowd of 4,000 was evident when 17-year-old Fil-Am Nathan Fasching, whose mother Alpha Estalilla is a pure Ilocana, sang the National Anthem in the ring before the start of the bout. The microphone went on and off as Fasching delivered his inspiring rendition despite the technical gaffe but the Filipino fans in the arena made up for intermittent breaks by singing aloud, causing Top Rank CEO Bob Arum to applaud the display of the Filipino bayanihan spirit.

Fasching, a Fresno vocalist often invited to sing in private parties, was a big hit. He was tapped by Fresno promoter Al Perez’ chief accountant Titus Verzosa, a San Beda alumnus whose father Mariano was a former Lingayen Mayor. Verzosa sent performance videos of Fasching to Top Rank which approved his appearance to sing the Pambansang Awit. Perez and Top Rank collaborated to stage the fight card. It was only Perez’ third boxing promotion but the biggest in his showtime career. Perez owns two Fresno radio stations and has a history of producing concerts. His son, a boxing fan, convinced him to get involved in the fight game because of the popularity of Fresno’s own WBC superlightweight champion Jose Ramirez who showed up for the Filipino main event and will stake his crown in the same arena next month.

Top photo: Jerwin Ancajas, Mark Anthony Barriga and Joven Jimenez at the hotel lobby after the fight.

Ancajas raises his IBF belt after successfully defending it against compatriot Jonas Sultan in Fresno, California on May 26.

In 1925, the Philippines’ and Asia’s first boxing champion Pancho Villa retained his world flyweight crown on a decision over countryman Clever Sencio at Wallace Field, on the east end of what is now the Luneta Park. It was the first world championship fight between two Filipinos ever. In Fresno, IBF superflyweight king Jerwin Ancajas, dubbed the next Manny Pacquiao, outpointed challenger Jonas Sultan in the first all-Filipino ring confrontation for a major world boxing belt since Villa’s milestone.

Before the fight, Philippine Olympic Committee chairman Rep. Abraham (Bambol) Tolentino went to the lockerroom of both fighters to wish them luck. Ancajas is Tolentino’s constituent in Cavite where the fighter lives and trains in a no-frills facility called the Survival Camp which he co-owns with coach Joven Jimenez. Ancajas is originally from Panabo, Davao del Norte. Sultan, the IBF’s mandatory challenger, was born in Zamboanga del Norte and now lives in Cebu where he trains at the ALA Gym.

A surprise visitor in Ancajas’ lockerroom was Mexican-American pastor Andrew Segura who founded The Resort ministry two years ago and is a frequent Philippine visitor. Segura, 27, prayed over Ancajas in a stirring delivery. He visits the Philippines once every two months and plans to open a school for less fortunate children.

The protagonists made weight easily on the eve of the fight with Ancajas checking in at 114 3/4 pounds and Sultan, 114 1/4 for the superflyweight bout with a limit of 115. Ancajas climbed the ring scaling 129.6. The action itself was not as exciting as Ancajas’ previous four defenses which all ended inside the distance. Ancajas wasn’t as aggressive, picking his spots patiently while avoiding Sultan’s wild rushes. But in the end, Ancajas was undoubtedly the superior fighter as the three judges turned in a unanimous verdict. Filipino judge Jonathan Davis, a former Cebu resident now living in Anaheim, and judge Zachery Young saw it both 119-109 while judge Danny Sandoval scored it 117-111.

ALA Boxing president Michael Aldeguer, who watched at ringside, conceded defeat and said he was proud of Sultan’s showing. Sultan, who impressed with his physical conditioning as supervised by performance coach Nick Curson, said he’ll work on his combinations and distance fighting in the gym to prepare for his next fight. Sultan’s trainer Edito Villamor said the fight was like a chess match as it was more tactical than a brutal war. Jimenez said he advised Ancajas to control the pace and space in the ring, keeping the rampaging Sultan at bay. Ancajas used his high level of skills and experience to gain the judges’ nod. Jimenez worked Ancajas' corner with Australian cutman Todd Makelin, IBF No. 1 minimumweight contender Mark Anthony Barriga, two-time Asian Games boxer and retired Philippine Army first lieutenant Delfin Boholst and 1990 Asian Games boxing gold medalist Bobby Jalnaiz. Sen. Manny Pacquiao's close advisers Michael Koncz and Joe Ramos flew in to attend the match as the fighting lawmaker supports Ancajas.

Britain's Kal Yafai, the WBA super flyweight champion, poses after dismantling Mexico's David Carmona on the night's co-feature bout. Yafai could face Ancajas for a unification bout in the future.

In his Courtyard Marriott hotel room after the fight, Ancajas stayed awake until 8 the next morning and slept only for a few hours. It’s boxing protocol for a fighter not to sleep immediately after a fight to allow body temperature, the brain and muscles to settle. To keep his eyes open, Ancajas watched TV and listened to his favorite songs on his phone playlist, like “Amanda” by Boston, “The Actor” by Michael Learns To Rock, “Stuck On You” by Lionel Ritchie and rousers by the Filipino band Slapshock. The next day, Ancajas and his entourage motored from Fresno to Los Angeles to catch the flight back to Manila.

Las Vegas-based international matchmaker Sean Gibbons said Ancajas will likely fight twice more before the year ends and with Arum’s go-signal, one could be a unification showdown with WBC champion Srisaket Sor Rungvisai of Thailand or a battle against former titlist Juan Francisco Estrada of Mexico. Ancajas, 26, is clearly the rising star of Philippine boxing.

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