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Make No Mistake—Jerwin Ancajas Is Carving Out His Own Legacy

How the next big thing in Filipino boxing is taking over, one punch at a time

by Jason Tulio | Jun 8, 2018

This "Pretty Boy" isn't sitting pretty, and each match conquered is only adding to his reputation as our country's best fighter

Thwip. thwip. Thwip thwap. Thwap thwip.

They’re familiar tunes to anyone who’s spent time in a boxing gym.

Poom. Poom-poom-poom.

They’re engaging, but droning—the perfect soundtrack to a boxer’s never-ending grind for greatness.

Tugdugdug, tugdugdug, tugdugdug.

Familiar, too, is the pungent scent of sweat seeping into blood and leather. The sweet science boxing may be, but its minute details are hardly pretty.

Foreign, at least to those used to zumba-friendly sweatboxes in the metro, would be the sights and sounds of chickens scuttering under the ring ropes. Of tall grass and barking dogs inches away from the heavy bags. Less Rocky and his Sly slur, and more like the chop-socky Kickboxer mixed with Bisaya accents.

This is Survival Camp. Home to this era’s Filipino fistic hopeful.

PHOTO: Kevin Cayuca


A tale too common

The 26-year-old Jerwin Ancajas’ journey from poor provincial boy to world champion is a story as old as boxing itself. Born to farmers in Davao del Norte, his was a childhood spent toiling under the sun. When he was nine years old, his older brother introduced him to boxing.

Na-enjoy ko yung boxing talaga nung unang salta ko sa gym. Pina-sparring agad ako ng kuya ko,” Ancajas shares. “Si kuya [kasi], kung may bata nagboboxing dati dun na magaling na at ako paumpisa pa lang, sinabak niya agad ako."

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His talent was evident from the beginning, and he looked up to his fellow Filipinos who fought on the world stage, all the while dreaming of becoming a professional one day just like them. His time as an amateur saw him numerous national titles. And it was during these early days that he imbued the boxer’s spartan lifestyle.

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Yung programa [sa amin], ‘Knock Out Drugs’ yung tinatawag—kailangang walang bisyo ang boxer doon, kailangan nagaaral.”

Not like the other guy

Last May, Ancajas made history by taking part in the first all-Filipino world title fight in nearly a century. That he successfully defended his IBF Super Flyweight belt against Jonas Sultan was mere icing for the occasion.

“Jerwin Ancajas did what he had to do against an awkward, tough fighter and got the win. It wasn’t his most crowd-pleasing win but sometimes you have to win ugly to keep the belt. He showed discipline and never moved away from the game plan,” said The Ring writer Ryan Songalia, who was ringside in Fresno.

Winning ugly. It’s something that Filipinos aren’t used to from their world champions. Not when a certain incumbent senator brought glory to the country with wild knockouts, dazzling speed, and at least for a time, a timid gee-whiz charm that endeared him to the world.

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Yes, the Manny Pacquiao analogies come loud and often for Ancajas. His promoters at Top Rank Boxing even use #NotManny when talking about their champion, as if it somehow deters the comparisons to their champion’s childhood hero.

There are similarities, granted. There’s the southpaw stance. The potent, lunging left hand. The deceptive right hook. But Ancajas is a different breed. Where Pacquiao was wild, he’s measured. Where Pacquiao was dazzling, he prods with an educated jab that reflects his amateur pedigree.

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Once in a while, Ancajas’ technical prowess might end up in a less-than-beautiful victory. Yet he’s exciting when the right opponent is in front of him; before the Sultan decision, he had racked up four sensational stoppage victories in Macau, Australia, Northern Ireland, and the US.

No, he’s not the next Pacquiao. But the 5’6” "Pretty Boy" is poised to bring more sporting pride to our nation in a big way.

PHOTO: Kevin Cayuca

Survival of the fittest

Ancajas’ pro career hasn’t always seen his name plastered next to an all-time great. In a what-could-have-been that’s befallen many talents just like him, he nearly quit the sport because of unscrupulous politics. He was almost fated to a lifetime working in a junk shop when his current coach Joven Jimenez asked him to move to Manila.

Tawa-tawa lang, masayahin lagi,” Ancajas says about his mentor. “Siya po yung nag-advice sa akin na wag tumigil kasi sayang ang potential. Pinuntahan niya talaga kami sa Davao.”

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But their problems were only beginning. Soon, his coach lost most of his fighters and his financial stability. The pair took to taking house calls to teach boxing and going from one boarding house to the next to make ends meet. Before Ancajas won the world title, they were subsisting on rainy weather and P100 drums for their water supply.

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But even winning the belt, in a non-televised affair out of a small gym in Fort Bonifacio, didn’t change their fortunes right away.

Kahit nung unang pag champion, pumayag lang po kami na napakaliit lang ng premyo nung laban namin kay McJoe (Arroyo). Payo sa akin po na wag anuhin ang pera kasi dadating yan, dapat focus ka sa trabaho mo.”

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"Perhaps it’s Ancajas’ beginnings that have kept him grounded. That farmer’s mentality of earning one’s keep has never wavered in him. Day in and day out, his sweat drips onto the bare concrete floors of his gym, all the while he reminds himself to stay hungry. And when it’s all over, that’s the image he wants to leave behind"

Less than a year later, he fought on the undercard of the Manny Pacquiao - Jeff Horn fight in Brisbane, Australia. From a handful of people in Taguig, he found himself walking to the ring in front of more than 50,000 fans. And he even outshone his idol by scoring a TKO win.

Struggle is an all-too-familiar feeling for Ancajas, but he takes it in stride: “Kahit anong problema dumating sa amin, hindi kami talaga nagpapadala sa problema.

PHOTO: Kevin Cayuca

Building a humble legacy

Ancajas’ success has taken him far from the farm in Davao, to places his wildest dreams likely never imagined. But this quaint domicile in Cavite suits him just fine.

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Survival Camp stands as a testament to all his labors, achievements, and ongoing quest to become the best. It’s where he and his growing family call home. And it’s where other aspiring hopefuls can put in the work and build camaraderie over basketball games on TV and steaming bowls of kamote.

Perhaps it’s Ancajas’ beginnings that have kept him grounded. That farmer’s mentality of earning one’s keep has never wavered in him. Day in and day out, his sweat drips onto the bare concrete floors of his gym, all the while he reminds himself to stay hungry. And when it’s all over, that’s the image he wants to leave behind.

A bit of advice he was given, by a man who was once in his shoes, will continue steering him towards that goal.

Sinasabi [ni Manny] na kahit na anong marating mo sa boxing, pakumbaba lang lagi. At lahat ng biyaya na matangap mo, pasalamat lagi sa panginoon.”

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There will be more accolades for Jerwin Ancajas, in and out of the ring. That much is a near certainty. But no matter where his success takes him, chances are he’ll still be toiling away on a small lot in Cavite—one thwip and thwap at a time towards boxing immortality.

Photography Kevin Cayuca


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