The time for Jerwin Ancajas to impress is now
While most of the boxing world’s attention will be focused this weekend on Las Vegas – there’s apparently a big middleweight championship fight happening – Jerwin Ancajas still hopes you tune in to his fight. It takes place in Stockton, Calif. on ESPN with Ancajas defending his IBF junior bantamweight title for the seventh time against mandatory challenger Ryuichi Funai. The main event will feature IBF light heavyweight titleholder Artur Beterbiev defending against Radivoje “Hot Rod” Kalajdzic.
“It is a very hard question because they are big names, Canelo [Alvarez and [Danny] Jacobs,” Ancajas said with a laugh, when asked why fans should watch his card instead.
The stakes may not be as high for the sport, but Ancajas is doing more than just defending his title. He’s fighting to prove his star is still on the rise, and that he can pull up the nose on his championship run. Ancajas (30-1-2, 20 knockouts) of Panabo City, Philippines had burst onto the world scene from obscurity with entertaining defenses against Jamie Conlan and Israel Gonzalez, but the luster has come off in his last two fights, including a forgettable decision win over Jonas Sultan and then a split-draw against the unheralded Alejandro Barrios.
“We learned a lot in the last fight against barrios. We changed a lot of things,” Ancajas says, noting footwork and adding sparring partners as areas of adjustment. Trainer/manager Joven Jimenez says they’ve hired a new nutritionist to keep his energy levels high.
Funai (31-7, 22 KOs) may just be the cure to what ails Ancajas. At 33, Funai is six years older, and he’s tall for the weight at 5’7”, meaning Ancajas won’t have to worry about headbutts and missing over the top like he did against the shorter, awkward Santiago. Funai has won seven straight, and is fighting outside of Japan for the first time in his career. His biggest win was an eighth round KO of former title challenger Warlito Parrenas two fights ago, while his losses have come when he stepped up in competition against Shinsuke Yamanaka (TKO7), Sho Ishida (MD10), and against another Filipino boxer named Rolly Lunas (TKO9).
“Sometimes he becomes aggressive, he’s also a boxer, he’s also good outside,” said Ancajas.
The urgency around a good performance stems from the flux that the junior bantamweight division finds itself in. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, who ascended to the top of the division after two wins over Roman Gonzalez, was deposed in decisive fashion by Juan Francisco Estrada this past weekend. Ancajas had actively campaigned for a unification showdown with Sor Rungvisai, even traveling to Thailand to be at ringside for his prior defense against Iran Diaz.
“When he went right-handed instead of left, I don’t know if that’s his strategy or if he’s waiting for something,” said Ancajas, voicing confusion over Sor Rungvisai’s tactic of boxing the first nine rounds outside of his usual stance. “For me, he has a better showing as a southpaw than right-handed.”
Jimenez says he wasn’t surprised by the outcome: “We know Sor Rungvisai stopped training before the Diaz fight, he’s got problems so we know his condition is not the same from the first [Estrada] fight.
As talent-rich as the division is, Ancajas has yet to face any of the bigger name players at 115. Ancajas says he wants to face the best, Estrada included. That comes down to promoter Top Rank and dealmaker Sean Gibbons believing he’s ready for that step.
“One of our goals in our team is to have a good fight…especially since the last fight was not as convincing,” said Ancajas.
“We are really preparing hard to have good results for the upcoming fight so the people and our promoter will be impressed.”
With a plurality of screens in the modern American home, perhaps fans can find a way to watch both cards.
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and part of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism Class of 2020. He can be reached at [email protected].